Australia is Britain’s greatest achievement
Over the last eight years, there has been a noticeable change in Anglo-Australian relations. We’ve had the mutually beneficial post-Brexit free trade agreement, the historic AUKUS defence pact, and London’s commitment to “tilt” its foreign and security policy to the Indo Pacific region. Not since the 1970s, when the UK joined the EEC and withdrew from east of Suez, have relations between the two countries been so close.
So it was a strange decision indeed for Penny Wong, the new Australian foreign minister, to spend her first visit to the UK in this role repeating the tired tropes of the extreme Left about British colonialism. She claimed that the UK would not find common ground in the Indo Pacific region if it stayed “sheltered in narrower versions“ of its history. She went on to say that though “such stories can sometimes feel uncomfortable”, Britain had to be prepared to face the uncomfortable reality of its colonial past in order to embrace the modern region.
As it happens, Britain’s contribution to the evolution of the Indo-Pacific region was huge, and to be lectured on it by an Australian foreign minister is indeed passing strange. After all, part of Britain‘s contribution to the Indo Pacific region has been the creation of modern Australia – perhaps the UK’s finest achievement of the last two centuries!
Not unreasonably, most Australians are very proud of their country and its many achievements. Of course it has made mistakes and sometimes people have been cruel to each other. In that sense, Australia is no different from anywhere else. But on the whole, it’s a more successful society in terms of both harmony and prosperity than almost any other society on earth.
The far Left may not place much value on this, but most Australians do. And what’s more, they know that part of Australia’s success is that its political institutions, its legal system, and indeed, most of its values were the creation of British settlers and their descendants. Migrants from other parts of the world have rushed to get to Australia because of the success of the country, not because they abhor British colonialism and its legacy.
For most Australians, there isn’t a country in the world more popular than the UK. But for the activists of the Left, the UK is a whipping boy and always has been. In more recent years, the Australian Left has swallowed much of the critical theory so popular amongst a narrow range of bourgeois elites in the United States. So now it’s fashionable to slag off the British Empire, demand reparations for the ills of hundreds of years ago, and to join Harry and Meghan in denigrating the monarchy.
So it comes as no surprise that the new Australian Labor government has decided that the monarch’s image should be taken off the five dollar note. It’s not as if the country is gagging to become a republic, but for the Left, it’s nicely symbolic to cut the head of the monarch off the currency!
They are more interested in playing symbolic games than understanding reality. It took British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly to remind the Australian foreign minister that the UK has a prime minister of Indian heritage and a foreign secretary of African heritage. That is modern Britain, which embraces its past in an extraordinarily successful multicultural polity. The new Australian government should learn from it – and concentrate on today’s issues, rather than behave like junior lecturers in a third rate university.
Alexander Downer served as Australian High Commissioner to the UK and was Australia's longest-serving Minister for Foreign Affairs. He is Chairman of Trustees at Policy Exchange