For students of democracy and foreign policy, Australia has been experiencing interesting times in the last two years. All countries devote enormous effort and considerable resources to ‘public diplomacy’. This takes two forms.
The first is positive: the promotion of good news stories highlighting attributes, parts and aspects of life in a country to overseas audiences in order to create, consolidate and expand favourable impressions of and attitudes towards one’s country among foreigners. An attempt at this, even though the implementation was embarrassingly wrong in the tag line, was the Scott Morrison-designed marketing slogan ‘Where the bloody hell are you?’ that promoted Australia’s lifestyle attractions.
The marketing adage that all publicity is good publicity decidedly does not hold in diplomacy. Instead, the international coverage of the threat to the health of Australia’s democracy is truer to the Irish literary great Brendan Behan’s bon mot: ‘All publicity is good, except an obituary notice’. The second prong of public diplomacy accordingly is damage control: reacting to bad news stories by countering with broader perspectives, providing context, alleging bias in the messenger, emphasising that authorities are on it, and so on.
A good example is the bad publicity generated in India when Indian students were being attacked and harassed on the streets of Melbourne in 2009 and the Australian government was a bit slow to react but then went into full damage control mode, including by sponsoring trips to Australia by prominent opinion influencers in India: money well spent to protect the lucrative education and tourism market.
The year 2021 has been marked by a growing series of articles in the world press, many frankly disbelieving, that highlight how easily and comprehensively Australia has slipped back into becoming a remote penal colony. All this is very embarrassing and damaging because it’s all so true. What follows is a sample. Follow the links and weep for poor fella, my country.
Australia’s COVID response ‘stands as a warning for how easily core freedoms can erode in even a well-established democracy’ – New York Post.
Australia has become a ‘COVID dictatorship’ – Tucker Carlson.
‘Up to now one of Earth’s freest societies, Australia has become a hermit continent. How long can a country maintain emergency restrictions on its citizens’ lives while still calling itself a liberal democracy?’ – The Atlantic.
‘Heretofore an honourable member of the Free World, Australia has lurched into a bizarre and disturbing netherworld of bureaucratic oppression in the name of public health’ – National Review.
Australia is ‘hollowing out entrenched practices, principles and institutions of democracy and parochial state premiers have heavily diluted Australia as one nation, fragmenting it into several different states and territories that have frequently closed off their borders to other Australians’ – Japan Times (disclosure: my own article).
‘What’s the point of Australia?’ – UnHerd.
‘How has it come to the point that Australia needs to call up the military to eradicate a virus that is now endemic in the world?’ – The Daily Telegraph (UK).
‘If there is one nation that has gone insane with COVID, it’s Australia. It’s scary because their lockdown protocols mirror what Dr. Anthony Fauci and other COVID panic porn manufacturers want to do here’ in the USA – Townhall.
‘The risks to Australia’s democracy’ – Brookings Institution.
‘The authoritarian takeover of Australia’ – Spiked.
‘Hard lockdown and a “health dictatorship”: Australia’s lucky escape from COVID-19’ – British Medical Journal .
And the last word: ‘Never has this country been more over-governed yet so starved of leadership’ – Peta Credlin, The Australian.
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