Flat White

Post-pandemic self-reliance: an answer to globalist nostalgia

8 May 2020

5:12 PM

8 May 2020

5:12 PM

Australia is beginning to emerge from the depths of COVID quarantine, but we can’t celebrate just yet! We will shortly be forced to consider the economic wasteland we are likely to confront on the other side and how our nation must respond to ensure our future prosperity and security. As New South Wales Treasurer, Dominic Perrottet, observed this week “there is no place for pre-pandemic thinking in a post-pandemic world”. This is precisely the reason we must seize this opportunity to pivot to a posture of economic and strategic self-reliance. 

A Flat White piece earlier this week presented the case from a Liberal perspective for a return to uncritical praise for the appealing mirage of globalisation once the pandemic dust settles — noting how much “richer, freer, and more connected” we are thanks to globalisation. I hope to present the alternative case, which can also credibly claim to be Liberal. In a cruel twist of fate, those penning panegyrics to globalism are now fuelled by nothing more than hopeless nostalgia. We must eschew this and look to Australia’s future, rather than its recent past, for inspiration. 

Ensuring Australia’s prosperity in “the new normal” will require us to move beyond pre-pandemic thinking. Merely relying on the status quo ante of globalisation as an easy and inevitable means to prosperity is both intellectually lazy and fraught with over-exposure to risk (as the present crisis has demonstrated). This is not to say we should cease trading with our neighbours – far from it. But we must take stock and ensure that our relationships bolster our sovereignty rather than shackle us to subservience. 

The recent war of words between Australia and representatives of the Chinese Communist Party (including thinly-veiled threats of economic coercion) demonstrates how our economic and strategic strength cannot continue to be placed so firmly in the hands of others. While China is our largest trading partner, the escalating rhetoric between their government and ours reveals a lack of mutual respect in the relationship and highlights the strategic imperative for Australia to increase our economic and military independence 

Indeed, Jim Molan recently argued that the pandemic “has heralded the end of a particular phase of globalisation, and the question becomes how Australia should recalibrate its policy settings to secure sovereignty based on security in the years to come.” 

Building our self-reliance need not be an exercise in inefficiency as opportunities to invest intelligently in domestic projects which secure our supply lines, support local jobs, and foster a resurgence in Australian manufacturing abound.  

Our relatively small population is no barrier to such investment, either. With a population of just over ten million people, Sweden possesses an entirely self-sufficient weapons and military manufacturing industry that even exports its jetfighter technology throughout the world. This is precisely the direction Australia can, and should, aim for in the post-pandemic era. Drawing on increased specialist STEM education to train highly-skilled engineers and innovators, Australia has the capacity to develop the industry of tomorrow – growing and sustaining economically viable jobs and healthy local industries in the decades to come.  

Just this week, Australia’s first locally designed and built military aircraft to be manufactured in 50 years was unveiled. One of the first significant fruits of the Defence Export Strategy launched in the early days of the Turnbull government, the ‘Loyal Wingman’ Advanced Development Program is a public-private partnership between the Australian Government and Boeing which will boost the RAAF’s forward airpower capabilities with state-of-the-art unmanned aircraft. Not only does this program enhance our military independence and security, but it also supports scores of skilled Australian jobs.  

In the words of Prime Minister Scott Morrison, this collaboration is investing in “sovereign, future-focused technology that has global export potential, creating hi-tech jobs and economic growth for Australian industry” and will support the safety, security, and prosperity of our nation.  

As hundreds of thousands of Australians seek employment in the post-COVID environment, the Australian government should look to the success of the Loyal Wingman program as a model for rebuilding our economy. Smart investment that supports accelerated learning in the STEM fields for Australians seeking to re-skill and return to the workforce should be a priority for the government seeking to rapidly rebuild our country’s prosperity and security.  

Encouragingly, Education Minister, Dan Tehan, has already flagged his desire to see Australians ‘binge-studying’ rather than bingeing on Netflix – it’s time to harness that hunger and direct it towards investment in supporting useful education opportunities with effective industry outcomes. Such investment must also be accompanied by adequate government support to incubate these fledgling industries during their infancy. We must set our sights on where we wish to see the development of Australian industry in the coming decades and plot our course accordingly. 

Undoubtedly, Australia is facing ominous economic headwinds and entering uncharted waters. At this critical juncture, investment in our nation’s economic recovery must be focused on treating Australians as citizens, not consumers, by equipping them with tools, not trinkets. The Australian government now has the opportunity to harness the great pioneering Aussie spirit to forge a restructured economic and strategic posture of self-reliance in the post-COVID era. The prosperity of our people is measured by more than just a cheap television set, and our government’s priorities for the future of this great nation should be adjusted accordingly. 

Illustration: Boeing Australia.

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