Foreign Secretary: In the old days we’d have sent in a gunboat.
Sir Humphrey Appleby:
James Hacker: I suppose … that is absolutely out of the question?
Yes, Minister

Australia’s interests — indeed, its dignity — are being affronted throughout the region. Stern Hu remains in Chinese detention, beyond consular access. An Australian tragically has been shot dead in West Papua.

And up goes the cry for the Government to do something. Quite what it should do isn’t clear, but the demand for action is insistent. The Government’s insistence on following established procedures is taken as a sign of weakness.

Australians’ obsessive need for government action to address each and every problem used to be confined to domestic politics. Now Australians appear to want Government responsiveness to extend to each and every Australian overseas. In non-anglophone countries only, of course.

There’s an air of colonialism about this attitude, a “don’t they know who we are” tone that suggests foreigners are out of line when messing with Australians. We’re white, we’re friends with the Americans, and we play sport well. Don’t get uppity with us, we’re serious — world — players.

Of course, we’re not. We’re a well-endowed quarry, a first rate source of actors and sportsmen and little else. That doesn’t mean there isn’t much to be proud in Australia’s successful democracy and high standard of living, but our apparent insistence on carrying on like we’re deputy sheriff and accordingly owed respect by the rest of the world is a peculiar leftover of the cultural cringe. We’re a minor player. There’s only 22 million of us. Deal with it. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.