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The McMahon moment in Australia’s Japan policy


Rikki Kersten (DPhil, Oxon), Honorary Professor at the Australia-Japan Research Centre, The Australian National University


Virtual event


Wednesday, 11 May, 2022 - 17:00 to 18:00

In the annals of the Australia-Japan relationship, few – if any – single out the contribution of William McMahon. McMahon’s brief tenure as Minister for External Affairs (12 November 1969 – 22 March 1971) has never been identified as one of consequence for Australia’s Japan policy.

This paper will scrutinize McMahon’s role in catalyzing the political turn in Australia’s Japan policy, as a first step in unravelling the origins of the momentum that would catapult Japan into pre-eminence in Australian policy thinking for the next decade, and arguably thereafter. I will posit that the policy firmament at home and abroad was ripe for the fleeting yet decisive intervention of a short-term Minister, and that we should re-evaluate this ‘McMahon moment’ in Australia’s diplomatic history.

This research is the first product of a three year project commissioned by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, for the distinguished Documents in Australian Foreign Policy series, on The Australia-Japan Relationship 1957-83.



Rikki Kersten (DPhil, Oxon) is an Honorary Professor at the Australia-Japan Research Centre, The Australian National University. She served in the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, including a posting to the political section of the Australian Embassy in Tokyo, before returning to academic life. She has taught at Sydney, Leiden, Oxford, ANU and Meiji Universities. Rikki was Dean of the College of Asia and the Pacific at The ANU, and Dean of the School of Arts at Murdoch University. Rikki specialises in Japanese political thought, Japanese security policy, and Australia-Japan relations. Recent publications include ‘Postwar Japanese Political Philosophy: Marxism, liberalism and the quest for autonomy’, in Bret W. Davis ed., The Oxford Handbook of Japanese Philosophy (Oxford: OUP, 2020; 591 – 611), and ‘Delivering Abe’s legacy: the raison d’etre of the Kishida regime, Asialink Insights, 5 October 2021.


Recording can be found here


The ANU Japan Institute Seminar Series is supported by the Australian Government through the Australia-Japan Foundation of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. 

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