Is Australia a bad neighbour?

An opinion piece in the Sydney Morning Herald recently describes Australia as a bad neighbour.

Columnist Tim Dick writes: “If there were a neighbourhood watch group in this part of the world, Australia would be the neighbour the group had to watch”. He says Australia is “rich and large, rude and loud, and doesn’t seem to care that its behaviour brings the region down”.

There seem to be an increasing number of stories about Australia infuriating its neighbouring countries.

Sure, some of this might be due to the size of Australia; the bigger you are the more resentment there is. If you asked a Canadian their view on the United States they might talk about their neighbour in terms such as ‘bully’ or ‘obnoxious’ for example.

But there are also particular policies that people don’t like. Australia’s policy on refugees is one that immediately comes to mind, but while it might be an unpopular policy it has been shown to be working. Drowning deaths going from 1,200 to zero and there appears to be a reduction in the number of people being held in detention.

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There is a certain inequality of treatment between Australia and New Zealand with many of the privileges extended to Kiwis living in Australia having been withdrawn by Australia, while Australians living in NZ enjoy all of the benefits afforded to it by NZ.

It’s probably no surprise to anyone that Australia is acting in its own self-interest.

As a ‘bigger country’ is Australia not just thinking about Asia, the Pacific and the US? However, Tim Dick highlights an interesting argument. As a bigger country, dealing with smaller countries like NZ, East Timor, Papua New Guinea and Nauru, surely Australia has an obligation to put its self-interest to one side for the well-being of the region?

Australia could be forgiven for being a bit distracted by its liaisons with China and further afield to the US, but long-term holding Australia accountable and getting it to pay attention to the way in which it relates with other nations could be the real test.

It’s hard to dispute the case presented in Dick’s article, and if Australia continues to behave badly it could lose some of its influence in the rest of the world.

With a similar culture, although there are distinct differences, NZ has developed quite a good reputation for its thoughtfulness towards other countries. Perhaps this is reflected in they way Helen Clark’s candidacy for United Nations secretary-general position is being considered.

Let’s talk. Is there a concern about the way in which Australia is conducting itself towards its international neighbours?