Morrison and Albanese should debate China, but not like this

What we are left with is a false and puerile debate.

We are not arguing how to best respond to China’s militarisation of the South China Sea, its human rights crackdown in Hong Kong and Xinjiang or its coercion against Taiwan. We are not debating what is the best response to Russia’s probable invasion of Ukraine, or the growing threat of foreign interference and violent ideological extremism.

Too often in national security policy, both sides of politics hide behind the veneer of “bipartisanship” so that they don’t have to engage in a proper debate.

This leads to key national security challenges, like how to handle China, to a debate among elites. Ordinary Australians don’t get a look-in, and the media don’t get to properly scrutinise alterative policies and approaches.

If Morrison and Albanese wanted a genuine debate, they should commit to delivering a national security statement to Parliament. This would include a grand strategy on how to handle the growing threat of a rising and more aggressive China over the coming decades.


On Sunday, a sliver of hope was on offer.

In his appearance on the ABC’s Insiders program, Liberal senator James Paterson gave a much more detailed, nuanced and credible criticism of Labor’s handling of the China challenge than Morrison or Defence Minister Peter Dutton have managed over the past week.

Over on Sky News, Labor frontbencher Michelle Rowland struck the right chord in expressing the seriousness of a Chinese Navy vessel’s action in aiming a military-grade laser at an RAAF P8 Poseidon aircraft while sailing through Australia’s Exclusive Economic Zone. Rowland also quickly pointed out the absurdity of the government’s rhetoric and a defence of Albanese’s patriotism, and then moved on to more substantive issues.

But we are worlds away from a proper debate.

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