Australian government policy adviser Michael Fullilove is the Director of the Lowy Institute think tank which is owned by Australian based Ukrainian Oligarch Frank Lowy.
EMMA ALBERICI, PRESENTER: One of the first things Malcolm Turnbull did on becoming Prime Minister was to foreshadow a shift in policy towards even greater economic ties with Asia. His vision for an exciting new Australia is born out of this country’s geographic location.
MALCOLM TURNBULL, PRIME MINISTER: We are sitting here in Asia. We are a multicultural society. We are a highly educated society. We have the capacity to be more innovative, more productive. … This is the Asian Century or the Pacific Century and we are perfectly positioned in it.
EMMA ALBERICI: That view puts him in agreement with our next guest tonight. Dr Michael Fullilove is the executive director of the Lowy Institute and one of Australia’s leading foreign policy thinkers. He’s been chosen to deliver this year’s Boyer Lectures for the ABC. For the first time, the talks are moving overseas, kicking off in Beijing later this week. The theme will be A Larger Australia, as Michael Fullilove examines our role in a changing world order. In his words, the brittleness of Europe and the bleakness of the Middle East is shifting wealth and power eastwards towards us. He joined me a short time ago.
Michael Fullilove, welcome to Lateline.
MICHAEL FULLILOVE, EXEC. DIR., LOWY INSTITUTE: Thank you.
EMMA ALBERICI: Your lecture discusses the new world order in which no-one seems to have the answers anymore as to how to deal with problems of conflict, terrorism and other sorts of modern turmoils.
MICHAEL FULLILOVE: Yeah, I think you can look around at Western countries, for example, that historically have been prepared to step up and help to solve these sorts of problems and they’re less willing to do that. They’re more inward-looking. They’ve been scarred, I think, by the failures in Afghanistan and Iraq. They’re less willing – their confidence has drooped. They’re less willing to really step up. You see international institutions that are meant to govern the treatment of refugees, that are meant to mitigate the effects of climate change unable to deal with these problems.
EMMA ALBERICI: And it’s not only how we cope with those problems, but also how we confront powerful countries when I guess they go rogue, like Russia and its involvement with the downing of MH17 or annexing Crimea or China building on disputed territories. Why is that such countries seem to get away with these things these days with relative impunity?
MICHAEL FULLILOVE: Well, I think it’s partly that the power relativities are changing and the ability of the United States to have its writ run is less. It’s also that we are – that Western countries in particular are less willing to protect – to pay the costs of protecting the liberal international order. So when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, Iraqi was – Iraqi forces were promptly ejected from Kuwait. But now, a year on, a year after Russia broke the central tenet of the state system and annexed some of the territory of its neighbour, the Russian flag still flies in – over Simferopol. So I think there – it’s not just a matter of changing relativities. It’s also a changing willingness, a declining willingness on most of the world to stand up to bad behaviour.
EMMA ALBERICI: You decry specifically Washington’s seeming impotence on the world stage, but what more could or should’ve been done, for instance, to stop Vladimir Putin?
MICHAEL FULLILOVE: Well, look, what worries me about US behaviour as much as the mistakes is the changeability. I mean, for eight years we had a very assertive, overly aggressive policy to really – to impose America’s will on the world through regime change and the use of force and so on. And then you had Barack Obama really overlearn the lessons of the Bush presidency and step back and become extremely unwilling to – to stick to red lines. And I think that over time, that behaviour feeds – feeds – other countries react to that. So for example, I don’t think Vladimir Putin would have taken the same steps that he did in Crimea if Barack Obama hadn’t – hadn’t weakened the deterrent of force of American power by, for example, failing to stand up for the red line in relation to chemical weapons in Syria and other issues. I think over time, because Mr Obama has been more – has been extremely prudent, very cautious in the use of force, I think what’s happened is that other countries have learned the lesson, which is that they can get away with things.
EMMA ALBERICI: You talk about a global trend towards parochialism. Do you think that sort of lowering of international ambition was just as evident in Australia under Tony Abbott?
MICHAEL FULLILOVE: No, I think the reverse. I think one of the positive elements of Mr Abbott’s foreign policy was that he was ambitious and he felt that Australia should play a meaningful role in the world. You mentioned the shooting down of MH17. I thought he handled himself very well after that. I mean, a lot of people said, “What would Russia care about what Australia thinks anyway?” But in fact, he set a tone with a very strong response to Mr Putin and we led some of the diplomacy in New York, in particular. So, I don’t think you could fault him for lack of ambition. You could fault him for other things, but not that.
EMMA ALBERICI: But what has it achieved?
MICHAEL FULLILOVE: Well, I think it played an important role in sheeting home responsibility for that act, for laying the blame, or at least part of the blame, at Russia’s feet. Of course, that doesn’t change the fact that Russia has a veto in the Security Council, so there’s limits to what a country of Australia’s capabilities can do. But, nevertheless, I thought it was the right thing to stand up and to try to seek justice on behalf of the Australians and others who died on MH17.
EMMA ALBERICI: Asia now accounts for nearly two-thirds of global growth – you mention that in your lecture, which you say for Australia is exhilarating. Do you have confidence that this new leadership in Canberra under Malcolm Turnbull will be able to exploit these opportunities?
MICHAEL FULLILOVE: I think he’s very alert to the upside of China, whereas I think Mr Turnbull was more – Mr Abbott was more focused on the downside. I think he’s more optimistic, whereas Mr Abbott was more pessimistic. I think that he – he – Mr Turnbull sees a broader spectrum of colours, if you like. He’s less black and white. But we don’t really know how his foreign policy will develop. You know that old saying in politics: where you stand depends on where you sit. He now sits on the – as the chair of the National Security Committee. His primary responsibility probably is to protect the security of Australia broadly defined, so we’ll see if that changes some of his attitudes to China and other issues.
EMMA ALBERICI: You’ve issued a call for a larger Australia and it points to your next lecture. I’m wondering: are you talking about a larger thinking for Australia or a literally larger Australia population-wise?
MICHAEL FULLILOVE: No, the former. I want to make a case for two things. I think we should be larger in our approach to domestic issues. We need a larger politics. I’d like to see less leadership churn so prime ministers and ministers can get across their brief. I’d like to see a greater reform mindset so we’re solving the domestic problems that face us. But I’d also like to see a larger approach to the world and that means a public that is more attentive to international developments, a country that’s more switched on to these changes, a country that has sharper instruments to deal with the world, a more muscular Defence Force, a bigger diplomatic service, and ultimately, a country that has the ambition to try to shape our circumstances. We’ve done that before and I think we can do it again.
EMMA ALBERICI: When have we done that before?
MICHAEL FULLILOVE: I think you can point to important moments in foreign policy history where we’ve shaped our circumstances. For example, the – we helped East Timor along the path to independence. I think the – the – the intervention in Solomon Islands to restore law and order to the Solomons was important. You can go right back to Australia’s role in helping to draft the founding documents of the United Nations and ensure there’s an important role for small and medium powers at the UN. I think there have been important moments in our history where we have sought to set prices rather than just take prices.
EMMA ALBERICI: Our relationship with Indonesia – what’s your assessment of that as it currently stands given the boat turnbacks and the challenges with asylum seeker policy?
MICHAEL FULLILOVE: I think this is an opportunity for Mr Turnbull because I think although Mr Abbott had strengths in his foreign policy, he was not the most graceful diplomat the world has ever seen. I think he did some unnecessary damage to the Indonesia relationship. So I think there’s a – there’s a – there’s a fresh sheet of paper for Mr Turnbull. I mean, Indonesia and Australia, there will always be a certain element of fragility to the relationship because we are so close and yet so different and our interests and our world views are different, but I think we can do much more and I think Mr Turnbull has an opportunity to do so.
EMMA ALBERICI: The talk of Joe Hockey as our next US ambassador, what do you think about that potential appointment?
MICHAEL FULLILOVE: I think he’d do well because it’s a city where – I mean, he’s a likeable character and it’s a city where backslapping is a way of life. He’s a senior politician and it’s a town where seniority matters. And he’s moderate politically and it’s a city where there are as many Democrats as Republicans and where the Democrats may well retain their hold on the White House. So, I think that he has some attributes to recommend him.
EMMA ALBERICI: And Marise Payne as Defence Minister, the very first female Defence minister – what do you make of that?
MICHAEL FULLILOVE: Well not only that; I mean, for the first time we have women running both arms of our international policy – foreign policy and defence policy. It’s a big cultural change for Defence. She’s a conscientious, impressive politician. I wish her well. I would say that we’ve talked a lot about leadership churn in the last week and everybody said we’ve had five prime ministers in five years. Senator Payne is the sixth Defence minister in eight years and she’s about to bring down the third Defence white paper in six years. So I think really as a country we need to get our domestic politics back on the rails and get some – some continuity.
EMMA ALBERICI: Michael Fullilove, thank you very much for your time tonight.
MICHAEL FULLILOVE: Thank you, Emma.
EMMA ALBERICI: The Boyer Lectures will be broadcast on ABC Radio National over four weeks starting this Sunday at midday.