All the ex bureaucrats to weigh in on deteriorating Sino-Australian relations

By Shannon Jenkins

February 11, 2021

Martin Parkinson. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

Australia’s handling of its relationship with China has attracted comment from a range of former senior bureaucrats who, since leaving the public service, have been able to freely and publicly voice their criticisms.

Ex Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet secretary Martin Parkinson is one of those people, having questioned the government’s approach to calling for an inquiry into the origins of COVID-19 in May last year.

Parkinson this week revisited the subject at the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia annual conference.

He touched on Scott Morrison’s push to allow the World Health Organisation to forcibly send a team of inspectors into a country to investigate a public health crisis. At the time, Morrison had compared the powers to those that UN weapons inspectors hold.

“What whizz kid who dreamed up those talking points, what did they think they were going to achieve with that?” Parkinson said on Wednesday, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

He also warned that it was “really dangerous” to treat the geopolitical issues in the region as a “choice” between the US or China, noting that Australia should opt for balance instead.

“It implies we end up with two blocs and if we end up with two blocs we are heading toward a Cold War-type environment,” he said.

Another of Parkinson’s criticisms was that other countries in the region — including Joe Biden’s US — have managed to keep communication channels with China open, despite having “differences of view”.

Read more: Public servants getting on with it in relation to China

Parkinson is just one in a long line of ex senior officials who have aired their concerns about the deteriorating relationship in recent months.

Other ex public servants who have weighed in on the situation over the past year include former ambassador to China Geoff Raby, former director-general of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Dennis Richardson, diplomat-turned-Liberal MP Dave Sharma, and ex senior Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade official Richard Maude.

Just last month, Philip Flood, former head of DFAT and the Office of National Assessments, said Australia “needs to approach China with somewhat more nuance and be wary of being drawn into a US policy of confrontation with China”.

Another ex ONA director-general, Allan Gyngell, also chimed in last month, stating that the government has not “articulated its thoughts about the world in any particularly formal way”.

Read more: Former Ambassador calls for ‘massive investment’ in diplomacy amid spiralling China relations


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