Sir Otto Niemeyer comes to town

Friday, 30 March 2007 

In 1930, when the then Governor of the Bank of England, Sir Otto Niemeyer, came to Australia to push for austerity measures, the Scullin Labor government and all (but one) of the Premiers used him as a cover to implement their own cuts in government spending. Similar political shuffling was going on this week around the arrival of former World Bank bureaucrat Nicholas Stern bearing another austerity programme. Just as geopolitics (i.e. British Empire interests) impacted Australian politics in the early 1930s, geopolitics is again making its presence felt today.

While the US has been pushing its War on Terror over the last five years, a rival global agenda has been pursued largely by the EU and Japan against a rival threat, global warming. While the War on Terror made a virtue of US military power, the Global Warming agenda neatly turns the US’s stronger growth against it and makes a virtue of the EU’s more sluggish performance. There were similar benefits for Japan against its grubby fast-growing neighbour. As the War on Terror flounders in the streets of Baghdad, the Global Warming agenda has begun to gain ground in geopolitics. Even in the US a reappraisal is underway, signalled by the return of Al Gore to the national stage. One unfortunate effect of climate’s greater role in geopolitics has been to turn what had been a lively, complex scientific debate over humanity’s impact on climate into a rather crushing, moralistic orthodoxy.

For Howard, having hitched his little caboose to the War on Terror, visits by harbingers of this change in geopolitical weather, such as Gore and Stern, are obviously embarrassing. For Labor, it gives another opportunity to make policy around Howard’s problems. However, there are two risks for Rudd. Firstly, the Global Warming agenda is still not yet in the clear geopolitical interests of the world’s largest power and Australia’s most vital ally. Secondly, like most moral agendas, it is better to preach than to practice and at the domestic level the austerity measures necessary may be awkward to implement. These risks are summed up in the uncertain performance of Garrett. However, as Rudd knows, it is easier to sell pragmatism from a position of faith and Garrett’s very mediocrity as a political operator certainly reaffirms his appointment was an act of faith by the ALP.

Howard is likely to find it a frustrating business to exploit the detrimental economic impact of this agenda. He will be right in many ways – but wrong on the most important, the shift in geopolitics that is giving the Global Warming agenda such authority. As Jack Lang found out seventy years ago, no matter how much sense one makes, defying global political trends is not a sustainable option for Australian politicians.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Friday, 30 March 2007.

Filed under International relations, Key posts

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