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Why mate equals hate

By Josh Ushay - posted Wednesday, 6 April 2005

It's difficult to know what to make of the recent poll by the Lowy Institute and its conclusion that the majority of Australians feel the US has a disproportionate influence over Australia in general, and our foreign policy in particular.

While this may be surprising, if not welcome for some, this poll probably says more about the Australian character than it does about our attitude towards the Americans; for there is a chance this poll reflects our traditional pre-occupation with both the tall poppy syndrome and with having "a fair go", rather than fundamental resentment of the US.

On the one hand, there is a clear sense of dissatisfaction towards the Bush Administration held by many Australians, and not just from the left-leaning intelligentsia. While criticisms from the so-called latte-left are well known, these criticisms have a much deeper resonance in the community than conservative critics would lead us to believe.


Two-thirds of the respondents to the Lowy survey say the US has too much influence on our foreign policy and the only countries rated below the US on a positive index were Indonesia, war-ravaged Iraq and Iran.

But a majority of Australians still regard the US alliance as important and three in five people said this link was "very important" to our security.

In terms of a threat from the outside world, almost as many nominated the US as those who regarded Islamic fundamentalism a significant danger - 32 per cent compared with 36 per cent, respectively.

It is clear many Australians of moderate political persuasion share the view that the Bush Administration invaded Iraq on false pretences; that the US Republican Party is more interested in oil than it is making the world safe for democracy; and that Australian foreign policy is shaped more in Washington than it is in Canberra.

The fact that this criticism emanates from moderates says something. While some of the criticism from the latte-left lacks balance, and therefore credibility, there is a great deal of evidence to suggest the US is less focused on strengthening its ties with Australia and more focused on furthering its own interests, at our expense nonetheless. To many, this offends the traditional Australian sense of being "fair dinkum".

Yet, on the other hand, the extent of this dissatisfaction is probably inflated, albeit unconsciously. These sorts of polls have a tendency to paint a distorted picture of the way Australians see the world; a distortion, moreover, that stems from two distinctly Australian characteristics - the belief that everyone deserves a fair go, and the tall poppy syndrome.


First, many Australian moderates, while ambivalent, are in the end not hostile towards the Bush Administration.

This is part of a traditional Australian affinity for the US that stretches back to World War II. Because a lot of American GIs died protecting Australia from the Japanese, and because the US and Australia share the core values of democracy, liberalism, and the free exchange of ideas and capital, the Australian commitment to having "a fair go" tends to translate into a loathing for totalitarianism, be it in the form of Nazism, Stalinism or Islamism.

Thus, while many moderates see merit in arguments from the Left, they also are conscious that the US, for its many faults, is a nation that not only embraces values similar to our own but also protects us from those who do not share these values.

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First published in The Courier-Mail on March 31, 2005.

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About the Author

Josh Ushay lectures in American foreign policy and international security at the Queensland University of Technology.

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