Weekly newsletter

Tony Abbott Interview: “We Were All Rooting for Hungary in 1956”

Dániel Deme 2022.12.03.

Hungary Today had the chance of speaking to Former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott during the Second Danube Summit on Geopolitics, Security, and Defense held in Budapest on December 1-2. After his lecture entitled Diplomacy, Alliances & Military Power, the Australian politician, who lead his country between 2013-15, has kindly given us his thoughts on trade with China and Hungarian-Australian relations.

Former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott speaks at the Second Danube Summit on Geopolitics, Security, and Defense. Photo: Hungary Today.

Its fair to say that Australia has had to make a sharp correction recently in its relationship towards China. Your country had benefited enormously from the lucrative trade, but this has morphed into a strategic security liability. Hungary is currently going down the route of strengthening its economic ties with China. What would be your advice based on Australia’s experience about how to balance such a relationship?

– The Australian experience is that we did very well out of trading with China, they needed our iron ore, our coal, our gas, and agricultural products. We were very happy to sell  these to them because the Chinese demand meant that a lot of Australian businesses expanded very profitably. But in the end the Chinese totalitarians see investment as strategy by other means. Chinese businesses are not independent of government in a way that other countries businesses typically are.

So what we have discovered is that China can turn trade on an off like a tap, depending on whether it wants to punish you or not. China continues to take massive quantities of Australian iron ore, because it cannot realistically get the same amount at the same price elsewhere, but where they do not need our products, because they can get them elsewhere, or because they are essentially luxury products, such as fine wine or lobster, they have just cut us dead.

So even though this year we will probably export some 200 billion dollars worth of resources and agricultural produce to China, there is about 20 billion dollars worth that China has completely arbitrary boycotted.

My candid advice as a friend of Hungary would be, do not get too dependent on China because if they ever want to, they will exploit that dependency for their own entirely self-interested objectives.

Former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott speaks at the Second Danube Summit on Geopolitics, Security, and Defense. Photo: Hungary Today

Its easy to say for big US or European companies who are already investing in China for others not to trade with the country, as they have already made their profits. But Hungary needs new markets and investment, especially because of the Covid and war induced economic crisis.

– Australia has resources, if you like a reliable and disinterested supplier of resources, then have a look at Australia.

– Is there a possibility of trading with China without taking undue risks?

– The Chinese state is totalitarian, in the end there is no clear separation between government and business. Business there completely subservient to the government. There is no rule of law in China independent of the Communist party. So if there is ever a dispute, I am afraid you just take your lumps and move on. You cannot argue that actually you are in the right. So I would be very careful. Right now in Australia we are continuing to sell the Chinese everything that we can, provided that its not of unique strategic value. And we are trying to insure that we are less dependent on China in our critical supply chains than we have until very recently been.

Hungary has in the past years championed what they call the Eastern Opening. Yet trade relations with Australia are somewhat lukewarm, mostly made up of German cars produced in Hungary, and there has not been a high level Australian visit to Hungary for years. Your country does not even have an embassy here. We have no reasons to be adversaries, but we cannot find a way to be close friends either. Does this situation have a political dimension, and what could be done to change this?

– Well there was an Australian embassy in Hungary, someone who was my foreign policy adviser when I was a PM, Mark Heath, used to be ambassador to Hungary some years ago, I think under the Howard government. At some point a decision was made, probably a cost-cutting decision, not to have a separate embassy here in Budapest. Hungary is serviced now by the embassy in Vienna. What can I say, except I am sorry!

There is no ill-will at all in Australia towards Hungary. In fact there is an abundance of goodwill. There was the famous water polo match between Hungary and the Soviet Union in 1956 in Melbourne during the Olympics, when the pool turned red with blood. We were all on the Hungarian’s side. So there is absolutely no ill-will, but I suppose there is a lot of distance, and because Hungary is doing so well economically, and is no longer under the jackboot heel of the Comintern, there is less incentive for Hungarians to emigrate. But I am all in favor of a stronger bond between Australia and Hungary.

Former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott speaks at the Second Danube Summit on Geopolitics, Security, and Defense. Photo: Hungary Today

Kevin Roberts of the Heritage Foundation has remarked a few days ago, that he regards it as ironic that a small land-locked country of ten million has become an example and reminder for Americans and other countries, what American principles are. The co-operation between Australian and Hungarian conservatives, if it exists at all, must be a very well kept secret. Have Australian conservatives been able to follow the stance that Hungary has taken in the past few years?

– I came here in 2019 to make a speech at a conference on families which Viktor Orbán had convened. Amongst other things I complimented PM Orbán on Hungary’s robust approach on border protection. John O’Sullivan, who runs the Danube Institute, was for a period the editor of Quadrant Magazine in Australia, which is a leading center-right intellectual magazine. I guess the reason why I came to the Danube Institute three times in the last three years is because I know John O’Sullivan well and like him a lot. I certainly intend, Danube Institute willing, to keep coming back here.

I think Orbán has been a transformative leader for Hungary. Hungary has prospered mightily under his leadership, and he has certainly been in his own way an exemplary conservative.

He stood against political correctness, he has pursued policies which a lot of other conservatives were too afraid to try. I think he has done well following those policies. I do not regard Orbán as some kind of a right-wing ogre, I think he has been the Margaret Thatcher of Hungary, if you like. He has been a very effective leader and a lot of conservatives look at Viktor Orbán thinking, wish we had leaders like him.

Does this happen in Australia too? The relationship between him and American Republicans is well documented. But do Hungarian conservatives’ ideas resonate at all among Australians? Is it being discussed there?

– We were conscious of the fact that he did build a wall back in 2015 when the European migration crisis was at its initial height. That was reminiscent of what we did in terms of stopping the migrant boats under my government. We are conscious of things he has done to promote family policies and I personally applaud all of that. It is overbearing that the EU has been at times really quite bullying towards Hungary. I applaud the way Viktor Orbán has basically given them the two fingers – that is what they deserved as a lot of people on the left have demonized Orbán quite unfairly.

Damage to Europe-China Economic Cooperation Must Be Avoided, Warns Foreign Minister
Damage to Europe-China Economic Cooperation Must Be Avoided, Warns Foreign Minister

Hungary's strategy is to be the meeting point between Western and Eastern investors and economies.Continue reading

Featured Image: Hungary Today

    [1536x1536] => Array
            [width] => 1536
            [height] => 1536
            [crop] => 

    [2048x2048] => Array
            [width] => 2048
            [height] => 2048
            [crop] =>