Principal's Blog: 21st November 2020

blogBowerscrop1I am delighted to say we have had no new cases of the virus for the last ten days. Generally teaching has gone well. We are planning for students to be tested before they go home for Christmas.

Principals Conversation with Dominic Barton

I had a fascinating and wide ranging Conversation with Dominic Barton now Canadian Ambassador to China on 4 November 2020.  Dominic dealt with a great array of questions from me first and then from the audience. This Conversation coincided with the results coming through in the tight US election. I hope I capture here the range of what he said:

China is at ‘full tilt’ with flight capacity back to 80%, traffic returning to normal and an economy set to grow by 2% in 2020.

The challenge the West faces is that, over time, China is going to outspend the rest of the world on R&D and that will be to China’s advantage. How we compete will be very important.

One of the biggest challenges to globalisation has been the repercussions felt in the global markets for goods and services. It has been felt by much of the West, and we have seen this in the consumer surplus and the reduction in cost of goods.

The biggest issue in the USA is the division in society, because the election results are so close, a lot closer than people anticipated,  in part because of a frustration with the “establishment or elites”.

One of the challenges China faces is if there is little to no debate within society, how do you ensure that there are the adjustments that are needed in a fast-changing economy. We have to ask how flexible China is to deal with shocks and changes to the global economy.

China’s success in their response to covid has been in their collective will. This concerns the culture, not state capitalism. China has the scale and recourses to do the mass testing. However, it is healthy to have rejuvenation of political leadership.

Taiwan is a red line issue. Anything that attacks the one-China policy in a significant way would lead to a military conflict. Any military conflict would cause consequences and sanctions on China from the global community.

Malcolm Turnbull in Conversation

Malcolm joined me for a wonderful Conversation on 10 November. He covered a vast area which has been captured by George Balkwill of our Development Team as follows:


  • The influence of Murdoch’s media is quite pernicious nowadays, especially in Australia where he has a large share of the media market.
  • It is now operating as the propaganda and the partisan aspect of media has changed.


  • Australia has been fortunate throughout the pandemic, in part because of geography and also through good contact tracing. The biggest mistakes were that Australia did not shut down sooner and it was too prevalent in care homes. Taiwan’s response to Covid-19 has been the most impressive.


  • China is an authoritarian country and can successfully lockdown in a way that we can’t. In a regime like that, no one wants to be the bearer of bad news and it led to cover ups. There should be an investigation into China’s handling of the crisis, but there should be an investigation on everything in a no shame, no blame way. It’s only this way that the world can learn from the mistakes. China has got the virus under control.

Britain’s relationship with Australia

  • From an Australian point of view, the relationship between the UK and Australia couldn’t be stronger and there couldn’t be a better friend of the UK. It is bizarre that there hasn’t been a visit from the Foreign Secretary post Brexit. Britain is likely to be the beneficiary of Australian diplomacy, for example on the CCTTP that would allow free trade amongst 11 countries.

2020 US Election

  • Biden winning should be a big improvement. Trump had destabilised relationships and alliances around the world. He’s always trying to make his counterpart feel uneasy. He shows it in his handshake where he pulls you in. It’s not helpful in the pursuit of America’s interests. He did not instil confidence in his allies. Bipartisanship is not going to descend on Washington anytime soon and will stay as the de facto head of the Republican Party.

Audience Q&A 

  1. Q. What can be done to change the culture of sexual abuse in the workplace?
  2. A. We need more women in Parliament and we need to make sure that workplaces are workplaces are a safe place to be.
  3. Q. Do you believe that social media can counter the propaganda of traditional media?
  1. A. The internet has cannibalised the revenue base of the traditional media. The problem with social media is that it is an extremely angry place, especially politically. We no longer have shared facts and increasingly, people are able to live in an echo chamber that only delivers them their own view.
  1. Q. What should happen about the status of Head of State of Australia once HM dies?
  1. A. Constitutionally, the successor will become Australia’s head of state. I think Australia should be a republic. I lead the republican campaign in ’99.
  1. Q. Do you think democracy has any future left in a world dominated by social media and authoritarian regimes?
  1. A. I think democracy will survive. If you went to Beijing, they would say, just because the majority of people want to do something doesn’t make it right. There are plenty of historical examples of this.
    Has democracy produced qualified politicians? Until relatively recent times, there has always been huge scepticism of democracy.
  1. Q. Nuclear weapons will shortly be illegal in many countries. Will Australia follow suit?
  2. A. Australia supports nuclear disarmament. However, you can sign all the treaties you like, but it won’t stop North Korea or Iran. I’m not suggesting that treaties are a bad idea but we have to use a lot of other measures to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons, such as trade sanctions.
  1. Q. How can Australia navigate a political future with the United States and an economic future with China, given they are in different blocks?
  1. A. I don’t accept the binary premise of that. We have a relationship with China on many levels, economic, social and cultural. We have to make sure we stand up for our values.
  1. Q. In the early history of printing, it was used extensively for political propaganda outlets. We seem to have managed it for the press, is there a possibility that the same can be done for the social media giants?

  2. A. The answer is you definitely can, depending on how much you want to compromised free speech. You don’t want what’s happened in China, where criticism of the government if censored. Where liability lies and how content is censored is key to the debate.

You can see the Conversation at


I am glad that we provided diwali themed food on 14 November.

I am not going to get involved in the politics of the US Election but I did like the description by Naysan Rafati of the International Crisis Group of the immediate future period as “less a lame duck period and more of an adrenaline infused mallard”!

I have been reading Kings of Shanghai by Jonathan Kaufman.

Keep safe and well.

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