Being “Asia-capable” means more than using chopsticks
Leaving aside the irony of the term “White Paper”, there are other reasons to be a little cautious, if not blasé, about the Australia in the Asian Century report.
Basically, it is one of those big fat paper bricks created by bureaucrats which for now at least, appears to have no immediate practical application beyond starting a conversation about the kinds of real world initiatives we’d actually like to have one day.
Oh, there are stats and graphs and so forth. Some stats are rather eye-opening, such as the one that shows Asia’s food demand will double by 2050 – and that Australia will play a much bigger part in helping to feed Asia.
But for every hard fact, there are reams of fluffy wish-list points. To return to the above example, Australia will help boost the Asian food supply by “Maintaining the rural research and development corporation model to boost productivity through advances in collaboration, science and innovation.”
Um, yeah. You bet we will. So should we all buy tractors or should we just kinda hang back and wait for the “rural research and development corporation model” to plant the bok choy for us.
Much of the report’s jargon is of the cartographic variety. The authors are particularly fond of the terms “roadmap” and “pathway”. If this report is indeed a map, it needs more signs, more place names, maybe some contour lines. Because right now, the report comes across as little more than an echo of the kind of the broad statements about Asian engagement which then PM Paul Keating made two decades ago.
And if you don’t believe me that it’s all a bit vague but don’t have time to read the thing yourself, take the word of business commentator Alan Kohler, who unloaded on it today on the Business Spectator website. Among his better one-liners are:
“The white paper is just another wish paper”
“Here’s [my wish] for Australia in the Asian Century: every Australian will be really smart and work really hard and speak fluent Mandarin or Indonesian, and have an Asian pen friend. “
“The panel led by Ken Henry has produced a paper that is a mile wide and an inch deep. It could be seen as framing the national agenda and providing a roadmap for all future policies, except that it mostly restates what has already been said over and over: that Australia needs to lift productivity, be fairer, be smarter, be better educated, etc etc, blah blah.”
It really is worth reading the Kohler column in full. That said, it’s worth having at least a cursory glance at the white paper. Though details are lacking, it is gratifying that someone in Canberra is doing some serious thinking about our economic future beyond the next electoral cycle.
I mean, the Socceroos now have to qualify for the FIFA World Cup through Asia, and many of us know our jiaozi from their inferior southern cousin, the siu mai (pictured above). But what next?
You tell us. Beyond the ability to use chopsticks (or not), are you ready for the Asian Century? To use the PM’s favourite new phrase, do you feel Asia-capable?
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