Let's not be distracted by GFC II or any short-term economic crisis sweeping the world. Over the medium to long term, there is going to be a massive shift in the make-up of the world, from being mostly poor to being mostly middle-class. (Whoopee!)
What's interesting is that the bulk of this middle-class will be from Asia. [What's also interesting is that while the aggregate spending of this Asian middle class will be huge, an individual family will still be highly budget-conscious, because they still won't be as well-off as a Western middle-class family. That calls for a very different product and marketing strategy to sell into this market.]
The rise of Asia is therefore a significant shift in the world's centre of gravity, and Australia would be wise to plan for it. This is in fact a welcome development for Australia, since the historical "tyranny of distance" that the country has suffered from has now been replaced by the "advantage of adjacency", as the Economist puts it. Australia is now closer to the action than any other Western country and should take full advantage of it. Given that Australians still don't have a high awareness of Asian societies, how they work and how to work with them, perhaps the white paper will spur the necessary investments in education and the like to better gear up the country.
The related controversy is around the notion of "Big Australia" (i.e., should Australia aim for a population significantly above its current 20 million?) and immigration policy. The relative advantages of size versus sustainability will be fought over for a few years at least. Regardless of which side is "right", it's important that Australia begin to have this debate. The stakes are high and the potential payoffs enormous.
I like it when debates are about planning for prosperity rather than about problems.