Will rookie PMs and our domestic political circus cause Australia lasting damage in the Asian century?

“We do not claim to be Asian.” This provocative statement defined John Howard’s first overseas trip as prime minister in September 1996. He meant no offence to his host, Indonesian president Suharto, and none was taken. In fact, the comment generated little discussion at the time because it was self-evidently true. Australia’s ethnic face was Anglo-European. Barely 5% of our population was born in Asia, and the projections at the time had the figure creeping up to 7.5% by 2025.

“I do not believe that Australia faces a choice between our history and our geography,” Howard told the Indonesians and the travelling Australian press corps. “Neither do I see Australia as a bridge between Asia and the west, as is sometimes suggested.”

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