The White Paper on Australia in the Asian Century, published in 2012, argued that fundamental policy and attitudinal changes would be required if Australia were to make the most of the opportunities presented by the Asian century. The White Paper presented a challenge to the core narrative that had galvanised support for two decades of economic reforms in Australia, commencing in the early 1980s. The challenge was intended to re-energise a reform effort that had run out of steam. But Australian policymakers have ignored the White Paper.
The core economic policy narrative that motivated Australian economic reforms of the 1980s and 1990s might be labelled Australian mercantilism. The narrative’s focus on something called ‘international competitiveness’, and especially its narrow interpretation in the form of the real exchange rate, was bound to generate a policy conundrum when, in the first decade of this century, Australia’s terms of trade started to accelerate.
Australia’s success in the Asian century calls for further investments in national capability: the development of collaborative business relationships with Asian partners; a strong contribution to sustainable security in the region; and deep and enduring people-to-people links across a broad sweep of human activity – commercial, social, cultural and political.