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Reader riposte: Gillard's to-do list

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COMMENTS

8 July 2010 12:43

Carl Ungerer from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute responds to Andrew Shearer's ten-point to-do list for the Gillard Government's foreign policy:

I am grateful to Andrew Shearer's recent post on the foreign policy priorities of the Gillard government. It serves two useful purposes. Given that Andrew was an adviser to John Howard and remains close to the Liberal party machinery, it hints at some of the priorities that the Abbott opposition will take to the next election. It also shows that an Abbott government would bring an introspective approach to foreign policy, one that lacks any real ambition for Australia in the world. Let's go through his points, one by one.

1. Explain Afghanistan: In her very first press conference as prime minister, Julia Gillard acknowledged the role of the ADF in Afghanistan saying that 'our country relies on you to keep us safe, to keep the peace and to honour the United States and the other alliances that are so important for our nation'. So we can tick that one off.

2. The mining tax: Andrew suggests that this has damaged our reputation as a destination for competitive investment. But the fact is, shares in the big mining companies have actually gone up. The tax is supported by the IMF. And the mining industry has now signed on. This one is just irrelevant now. 

3. The whaling issue with Japan: Andrew suggests that legal action is futile and counterproductive. Of course, the Howard government did nothing on this issue for 12 years. It was never even raised diplomatically with the Japanese. Now the Liberal environment spokesperson Greg Hunt calls Japanese 'scientific' whaling in the Southern Ocean a 'slaughter'. But you can't have it both ways. Either do something to end the slaughter or get out of the way.

4. Uranium exports to India: Unfortunately, on this one, Andrew and I are in agreement. But, for a more considered policy framework for how this could be achieved, Andrew should read my recent co-authored ASPI report, A Natural Power: Challenges for Australia’s Resources Diplomacy in Asia

5. Stabilise our relations with China: Andrew's suggestion for 'durable' bilateral policy framework is precisely what the government has achieved over the past two years. We have continued negotiations on a free trade agreement, upgraded the bilateral defence dialogue, established the Australia-China Forum and have just hosted the Chinese Vice President. 

6. Secure ratification of the defence trade treaty: Huh? This is just another pet hobby horse of right-wing think tanks in the US, and has very little to do with the actual trade in defence goods between Australia and US. It's true that removing the need for export licences would speed up that process a bit, but even the Heritage Foundation admits that 99.9% of all current licences are approved within a few months. Sure, seek ratification of the treaty. But this is hardly a first order priority.

7. Abandon the UN Security Council seat: According to this line of thinking, Australia should never seek to have a voice at the main table of international diplomacy. We should, as Menzies like to say, have a foreign policy ‘arrived at in consultation’ with London or Washington. However much conservatives still hanker for the warm security blanket of great and powerful friends, the fact is, we’ve moved on as a nation. Australia has a strong, independent role to play. And, as a foundation member of the UN, it’s appropriate we seek representation on the Security Council from time to time.

8. The Asia-Pacific community: This has boiled Andrew's blood since Rudd's Singapore speech in 2009. The Liberals have a visceral hatred of all things multilateral. But if you read Rudd's speech carefully, he was only suggesting that the region should have a conversation about the future regional architecture and not sleepwalk into conflict or confrontation. The APC might not be the right vehicle, as Julia Gillard has acknowledged, but even Andrew couldn't disagree with the fact that Rudd has at least initiated that conversation. A point that Richard Woolcott made recently.

9. Halve the national security bureaucracy in PM and C: Andrew's old colleagues there might baulk at this one. But, in creating the Office of National Security from the old national security division, the number of new public service positions has increased by fewer than 20. So Andrew would like to see 10 of them re-posted overseas. Doesn't sound like at major shift in foreign policy to me.

10. Re-empower the foreign minister: Andrew has a narrow historical frame of reference. Some foreign ministers have been more active than others. If Evatt and Evans were at one end of the spectrum, then Street, McMahon and Peacock were at the other. The bigger issue here is the increasingly presidential style of international relations, and the need for prime ministers to have a thorough grasp of foreign policy issues. A challenge that I am confident Julia Gillard will handle very well.

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