A good reputation is something that is hard to build but very easy to destroy. It depends largely on trust and is influenced, not only by one’s actions, but by how those actions are perceived by others. A reputation is the trust that you build with society.
It could be argued that the opinions of others are unimportant but we live in a great social network and need a good reputation for practical purposes—friendship and income chief among them. It’s hard to have friends if people think you’re mean-spirited and hard to make a living in any capacity if people think you’re lazy, unreliable, or dishonest.
This is also true of governments.
When the Coalition government rushed to sign three free trade deals that had been under negotiation for years, the Australian public were left with an uneasy feeling about what had been promised to get the signature on the dotted line by a given date rather than because of favourable outcomes.
As more details of the secret negotiations emerge, it appears that this concern was well-founded, and not just for Australia but also our trading partners as the following examples show.
“The Australian government has outraged South Korea by awarding a $1 billion plus Defence supply ships contract to a Spanish company, despite the Asian nation believing it would be the preferred partner….. its government and diplomats are fuming over the snub and believe it to be the latest instance in a long list of Australian double talking over defence materiel contracts.”
After reneging on a previous high level handshake “deal” over the supply of Korean mobile land artillery (self-propelled howitzers) citing “budgetary problems”, Tony Abbott offered a consolation suggesting Korea’s Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering (DSME) would get the contract for our supply ships.
In March this year, however, the Defence Capability and Acquisition Group notified the Korean embassy that Spanish Navantia had been selected as the preferred contractor for the SEA 1654 program for replenishment ships.
A Korean source said the free trade agreement reached between Korea and Australia, which entered into force in December 2014, was meant to expedite those defence procurement contracts that were already in train.
“Korea feels harshly done by and it is now a matter of maintaining face,” the contact said. “The feeling in Seoul is that if the Australian government can’t properly review the Defence materiel decision, then the National Assembly in Korea will review how it deals with Australia into the future.”
Likewise, the Japanese government is furious over losing the $50 billion contract for Australia’s new submarine fleet.
Based on handshakes, winks and nods in both 2013 and 2014 between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Tony Abbott, the Japanese believed there was an understanding that Australia’s new submarines would be built by them.
Australian National University’s Dr Andrew Carr, of the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, said “Our reputation as a reliable trade partner could be hurt and this could potentially flow on to other areas besides defence contracts.”
There is a growing feeling amongst Asia watchers that Australia is not being totally “honourable” in its own region.
This feeling is only exacerbated by our deplorable treatment of refugees where our “success” is measured by our ability to keep them out with the inevitable consequence of making them someone else’s problem. Our willingness to torture asylum seekers to achieve this goal is not something that is earning us respect and congratulations whilst we moralise to other nations who are struggling to help the millions displaced, in part, by our actions.
Another crucial area where we are losing face is our inaction on climate change. According to the government’s own figures, far from decreasing, Australian emissions will grow to 577 Mt CO₂-e in 2020, or 6 per cent above 2000 levels.
Emissions from the electricity generation sector grew by 3.2 million tonnes (Mt), or 1.8 per cent over 2015, while land sector emissions grew by 3.6 Mt – a 129 per cent increase in year-on-year emissions despite our Emission Reduction Fund which is being undermined by state governments loosening land clearing restrictions.
Is it any wonder that Coalition MPs did not have the courage to meet with delegations from Kiribati and Tuvalu who are losing their home while politicians try to sell the message that coal is good for humanity?
Australia has also received criticism for its high rates of Aboriginal incarceration and the documented cases of abuse in juvenile detention, our continued discrimination against the LGBQTI community, the high numbers of children, disabled and elderly living in poverty, our draconian counterterrorism laws, and our drastic cuts to foreign aid.
Australia used to stand tall as a country which could be relied upon to do more than its share, a country that fought for human rights, a country of straight dealers whose word could be trusted, a country who looked after the vulnerable.
Instead of a community who values integrity, we are now a nation of penny-pinchers who think only of themselves, who measure value only in dollars, and whose word means nothing.