Abbott’s UN cut is expensive and unnecessary
This week’s announcement by Tony Abbott that he intends to terminate Australia’s bid for a seat on the United Nations Security Council illustrates the profoundly myopic foreign policy of the federal opposition.
The abandonment of the bid formed part of a $1.2 billion string of budget cuts proposed by the coalition on Tuesday. In explaining the move, Abbott declared “there are vastly higher priorities for Australia right now than pursuing a seat on the Security Council”.
Abbott’s words, however, could not be more short-sighted.
Australia, a founding member of the UN, has maintained a close relationship with the international organisation throughout its history. We were instrumental in drafting the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, which was adopted while former opposition leader Herbert Evatt served as president of the General Assembly. Today, we are a key financier of the UN, and engagement with it has been a fundamental tenet of the Labor government’s foreign policy.
Should Australia win a temporary seat on the council for the 2013-14 term, it would end a 27 year absence from the UN’s most powerful body. Our presence would also make the council more diverse and representative, as only one country in the region, New Zealand, has held a seat in the last two decades. By acting as a strong voice for the South Pacific community, Australia would enhance both its standing in the region and its prestige globally.
Furthermore, we would act as a necessary counterpoint to China, the only Asia-Pacific state with a permanent seat in the council, which has repeatedly stalled on issues of importance to the region, such as the North Korean nuclear program.
According to the Lowy Institute, 71% of Australians support the bid—and so they should. Our commitment to multilateralism and international cooperation, our experience in theatres such as East Timor, and our historical links to the UN render us an ideal candidate for a council seat.
Moreover, as the region’s preeminent developed democracy, we deserve to sit in the chamber that oversees international peace and security. As a significant contributor to the UN, we deserve to have input into how our money is spent and how our troops are utilised.
Importantly, as Barack Obama commits the United States to meaningful involvement with the UN, now is the perfect time for Australia to resume its place as a leader within the international system.
While our opponents for the seat in the 2012 elections, Finland and Luxembourg, pose formidable competition, council membership is by no means beyond our grasp. Australia’s bid has garnered much support across the globe, our chances are considerable, and the race is far from over.
Yet the coalition still seeks to abandon our pursuit. Why? To save a trifling $5.7 million—less than half a percent of the total announced savings package.
This move represents more than just a misunderstanding of the desires of the Australian people; it represents the opposition’s fundamental ignorance of the interests of our nation, our region, and our global community.
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