Engaging the past: Australian politics and the history of Australian-Asian relations

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In the 1990s, history has emerged as an important area of public contest in Australian politics. Both the political right and the political left have expended considerable efforts and resources in attempts to legitimate their policies through reference to their past achievements or the mistakes of their opponents. One such site of this struggle is the history of Australia's relationship with the broad Asian region. Since its election in March 1996, the Howard Government has actively resisted the dominant historical interpretation that has portrayed conservative Australian governments of the past as ambivalent, if not positively hostile, to the Asian region. Much of this effort has focused on the lionization of a conservative foreign minister of the 1950s, Richard Casey, and the creation of a so-called "Casey Tradition" in Australian foreign policy. This article examines the means by which the Australian Government has defended the Asian foreign policy efforts of earlier conservative governments in an effort to legitimate its own policies and capabilities, and challenges many of the assertions the government has made in this regard. It concludes that by actively asserting a lineage between the current government's policies and those of former conservative governments, an image of ambivalence regarding the sincerity of Australian engagement with the broad Asian region is perpetuated.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)157-170
Number of pages14
JournalAsian Perspective
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1998
Externally publishedYes


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