I’ve been meaning for quite some time to set up and start doing a blog that discusses things relevant to my work, and also to allow me to comment on anything else that attracts my attention. Firstly, I will quickly introduce myself. I am a PhD student in the National Centre of Australian Studies at Monash University. My work examines the influence of American power and ideas on Australian policy in Southeast Asia in the first couple of decades of the Cold War. I am particularly interested in the interaction between the work of academics and policymakers, particularly when the work overlaps and scholars enter public policy or vice versa. I will be using this blog to explore the progress (or lack thereof) that I make in my project and also to just discuss things that are on my mind at a particular time.
As I said at the beginning of this post, I’ve wanted to start a blog for some time, but as with many things during a PhD, there constantly seemed to be something more important to do. This changed over the past couple of days. The Australian Federal election took place over the weekend and saw the Tony Abbott-led Coalition take government with a fairly safe majority. I can honestly say that this campaign absolutely did my head in, and I voted for neither of the major parties, both of whom I found particularly uninspiring.
This was not the thing that inspired me to write, however. Instead, it was a series of announcements by the Coalition that drew my attention. First, Tony Abbott announced a ‘relaunch’ of the Colombo Plan, which would see a ‘two-way’ exchange of students between Australia and Asia. I am interested in the ‘original’ Colombo Plan, and so was naturally interested to see what the Coalition had planned.
The new Plan is to provide $100 million over five years to assist students to either come to Australia from Asia or vice versa. This is a change from the original Colombo Plan, which only saw Asian students coming to Australia. According to the Liberal Party’s official statement, this will assist our part of the world to become the ‘beacon of prosperity that we would like it to be.’
I was intrigued by the use of the name Colombo Plan to describe this policy, as the historical and cultural baggage associated with the phrase will undoubtedly cause comparisons to be made. I was also intrigued, as the ‘original’ Colombo Plan still exists, with similar goals to those espoused in the early 1950s by Australian External Affairs Ministers, Percy Spender and Richard Casey.
The work of the early 1950s is acknowledged by the Coalition, but it is claimed that the New Colombo Plan will be ‘different and better than the original.’ It would appear that the only reason for this is the addition of an outbound component to the funding. The legacy of the original Colombo Plan would appear to be one of cultural exposure and exchange that comes from young people being exposed to a different environment.
This legacy was not really identified from the outset of the plan in 1950, and only really emerged over the first decades of the Plan. Instead, Australia’s Colombo Plan policy saw a growth in foreign aid spending, in line with broader attitudes amongst Western countries during the early Cold War.
This contrasts with the Coalition’s plans to lower foreign aid spending over the next few years, citing almost the exact same arguments as Treasurer Arthur Fadden from the early 1950s. The line ran, ‘We can’t continue to fund a massive increase in foreign aid at the expense of investment in the Australian economy.’ Joe Hockey’s words could’ve come straight from Cabinet discussions in 1951.
So we have a ‘new’ Colombo Plan being established in the context of lower foreign aid spending to contrast with the original Plan established as one of the first examples of Australian assistance in the region. It will be interesting to see whether this plan takes hold of public attention in the same way its precursor did. Something tells me it won’t.