The opposition treasurer has said that a Labor government would have a deeper engagement with the Asian markets than has previously been seen.
The Hon. Chris Bowen made the comments at the Asia Society Australia November briefing, saying that for a number of years, Australia has paid lip service to Asia.
“We’ve paid the Asian area lip service. We talk about it but had very little leadership frankly,” he said.
Mr Bowen said that, too often, incoming governments have scrapped papers and ideas because it wasn’t their idea and promised that Labor wouldn’t do the same.
“We won’t do that. For example, like the new Colombo plan, we think that’s a good initiative. Where things are working, we will continue with them. But we will very much lift the level of engagement from the Prime Minister down,” he said.
Bill Shorten spoke earlier this week about Labor’s foreign policy plan and Mr Bowen echoed that the plan had Asia at its core.
“We’ve announced our future Asian framework, which has much deeper economic engagement with the various parts of Asia very much at its core,” he said.
There were still more policies that Labor would announce, but as its current suite stands, it is a substantial body of policies, said Mr Bowen.
“Each policy in and of itself is not a world beater, but add them all together and there’s a very substantial body of them all. I think you have quite a substantial step change in the level of engagement from cabinet and government in deeper economic engagement,” he said.
On many major issues, Mr Bowen said there was a cohesion between Labor’s policies and the current Coalition government, but it was the little things that made a difference.
“Frankly, you will find very little policy change between us and the incumbent government on matters of detail, like South China Sea, and matters where you would find very little difference. What you will find is difference in subtlety and nuance in communication,” he said.
Currently, China is Australia’s major trading partner, and Mr Bowen said it was the first time in the country’s history that our largest trade partner was not also a major ally.
“This is the first time in our history as a country that our key trading partner is not our key geopolitical ally. For the first time, we have faced that conundrum and the Abbott/Turnbull/Morrison government has faced that conundrum,” he said.
Which made the current US-China trade war that much more difficult for Australia. And frankly, Mr Bowen said, it was out of the government’s hand.
“We can provide friendly advice, that’s as far as it will go. If the current trade skirmish turns into a full trade war, as there is a very real risk I am at the more pessimistic end of what that may mean,” he said.
Mr Bowen said that the US had some legitimate concerns that needed to be addressed as nobody wanted a trade war.
“We can say that as observers, there are issues that are legitimate to be discussed and addressed for China to make progress on, but a trade war is in nobody’s best interest. We shouldn’t be reliant on the hope that it shouldn’t be too bad,” he said.
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