The shooting down of MH17 is the second piece of evidence this week for Australia that the age of easy globalisation is not just a garden of delights for us to tread.
It is a two-way exchange of risks and rewards.
The close interconnectedness of the modern world means that a major disturbance anywhere can inflict harm everywhere.
Earlier this week we saw more evidence that young Australians are being drawn to the Syrian civil war to take sides and engage in combat.
This raises the risk that some will return and seek Australian targets for their jihadist violence.
Indeed, the federal government told us that some “tens” of them probably already have managed to return undetected. This phenomenon represents the most serious domestic security threat “in decades”, according to Attorney-General George Brandis.
[Ukrainian coal miners search the site of a crashed Malaysia Airlines passenger plane near the village of Rozsypne, Ukraine.]
Ukrainian coal miners search the site of a crashed Malaysia Airlines passenger plane near the village of Rozsypne, Ukraine. Photo: AP
Now the destruction of a Boeing 777 passenger jet above Ukraine has killed 28 Australians in a matter of seconds, according to the federal government.
We knew that Syria’s civil war and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine were serious. We just didn’t care. Because we didn’t think they affected us.
The Syrian inferno has been raging for three years and has killed at least 170,000 people.
[Debris at the site of the MH17 plane crash in eastern Ukraine.]
Debris at the site of the MH17 plane crash in eastern Ukraine. Photo: Reuters
The war in Ukraine had killed 478 people before the Malaysian jet was targeted. Four other planes have been shot down in the past four weeks.
Australians just never imagined that the anonymous foreign death tolls could include very personal local connections.
The Japanese have an old saying that another’s problem is “a fire on the other side of the river”. We have just discovered that there is no “other side of the river” any more.
The standard response to these newly realised risks is to treat them as sad one-offs. But these incidents give Australia an incentive – and an opportunity – to do something bolder.
Australia has a seat on the UN Security Council, and not just so our officials can practise note-taking and check their emails. Likewise, Australia has a voice at every major, high-level leaders’ meeting in the Asia-Pacific. It also has serious clout as a trading power, and other networks of influence.
The federal government should seize the opportunity to help shape ambitious global responses to these global ills.
A re-awakened world needs to take the rise of Russian aggression seriously. Putin must discover that Russian recidivism will not be tolerated by the world.
Even that is not enough. Because China’s territorial recklessness will pose even bigger future problems too if its challenge to the world order is left unmet.
Australia can do nothing alone. With an intelligent plan, committed partners and persistent diplomacy, it can help do a great deal.
Tony Abbott might say to this, as he has to ambitious ideas in the past, that these things are “above our station”. Tell that to the grieving Australian families.