Quarterly Essay

Scott Morrison has now been prime minister longer than any of his four predecessors: Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard, Tony Abbott, or Malcolm Turnbull. He has won one election by the skin of his teeth and faces another by May next year. So what sort of man is he and how good a prime minister? These three publications give us slightly different takes on these questions.

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The dual crises of the recent bushfires and the Covid-19 pandemic have exposed structural weakness in Australia’s economy. Our export income is dominated by a few commodities, with coal and gas near the top, the production of which employs relatively few people (only around 1.9 per cent of the workforce is employed in mining). The unprecedented fires, exacerbated by a warming climate, were a visceral demonstration that fossil fuels have no role in an environmentally and socially secure future. Global investors are abandoning coal and, in some cases, Australia. Meanwhile, industries that generate many jobs – education, tourism, hospitality, arts, and entertainment – have been hit hard by efforts to reduce the spread of the virus.

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You probably own a smartphone. Chances are it’s in your pocket right now, or at least within arm’s reach – don’t pick it up. Fight the habit. Besides, you’ve probably checked it in the last fifteen minutes. If you are an average user, intentionally or not, you will spend three to four hours looking at its screen today. If you did check your phone after the second sentence, then well done for making it back to this piece, although (according to some research) it probably took you about twenty-five minutes to refocus.

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For upward of a decade, Hugh White has been sounding a warning: that Australia’s long-standing policy of relying on the United States as guarantor of our security in Asia was approaching its use-by date. As a conspicuous relic of European colonial expansion, Australia has always viewed with trepidation the ...

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Guy Rundle ends his engrossing account of Clive Palmer with a disclaimer: ‘Knowing Clive, he will contradict everything asserted in this essay in the two weeks between its going to press and hitting the bookstands.’ Since the publication of this essay, Palmer has not contradicted the assertions of the essay, but his party has been challenged. Senator Jacqui Lambie has resigned from the Palmer United Party. At the November Victorian election, preference deals led to the election of micro parties to the Upper House, without a Palmer United Party member.

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Whether you love or hate lawyer–activist Noel Pearson’s ideas, you have to admire his chutzpah, his willingness to put his ideas out there for public discussion and debate, even if his own dogmatism sometimes limits his diplomatic engagements ...

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I dealt with China for most of the ten years I worked for the British Foreign Office from 1998. The one conclusion I drew from my experience over those years was that it didn’t take much to stumble into complexity. Britain and China have a vast historic hinterland. In 1839, British forces inflicted the first Opium War on China, and British politicians enforced the unequal treaties which ushered in what some Chinese call to this day ‘the century of humiliation’. In the hundred years that followed, Britain continued meddling and became involved in issues from Tibet to Hong Kong, building up a fund of resentment on the Chinese side that continues to pay back returns to the current day.

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Whether the focus is on Japanese whaling or the slaughter of livestock in Indonesia, the Australian public has strong views on how animals should be treated abroad – less so when the problem is closer to home. Anna Krien’s Quarterly Essay is an incisive narrative account of our ‘nuanced and often contradictory relationship’ with animals: ranging from the live cattle trade to our use of primates in science, to our attempts to control native wildlife populations through cyclical breeding and culling.

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Were I Editor in Chief of The Australian for a day, the first thing I would do is can the ‘Cut and Paste’ section on the Letters page. Its schoolyard bullying of the fools and knaves idiotic enough to oppose the paper’s line – usual suspects include Fairfax journalists, the ABC, Greens politicians, Tim Flannery, and Robert Manne – lies at the heart of what stops The Australian from being a great newspaper. A favourite game is quoting a commentator saying discordant things at different times. As an argument, this is right up there with great moments in adolescent wit like, ‘You said Chanelle was a slag last week, and now you are going out with her!’

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Not for forty years have Australians had real arguments with their governments about international relations. Many marched in 2003 against the Iraq invasion, but were ignored. Now, if the national obesity rate is any guide, Australians spend more time eating, partying and sleeping than having the earnest pre-breakfast discussions about foreign relations that Fukuzawa recommended.

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