Now we all come from a land down UNder
Australia’s victory at the United Nations belongs to our service men and women in Afghanistan and beyond; to our police abroad; to our aid workers and diplomats everywhere. These people are the modern global face of Australia. And the trust they have engendered in our country was wholeheartedly endorsed by the nations of the world last Thursday.
Testing our place in the world was a powerful and important experience for Australia, and worth every cent that was invested in it.
Australia had to make a run for the UN Security Council, having not served on it in more than a quarter of a century - our longest absence from this body.
As the twelfth largest contributor of troops and police to the UN, Australia should take its turn in having a say as to how and where those troops are deployed.
The decision to pursue a seat on the Security Council was always obvious.
In contrast the decision of the Opposition to make the Security Council bid an issue of political contest was cynical and lacked any sense of the national interest. It also led the Opposition down a dangerous isolationist path as they have sought to argue that because Australia’s priorities are close to home in the Asia-Pacific region, this ought to prevent us from taking an interest anywhere else in the world further than three hours beyond our own time zone.
This is myopic in the extreme and demonstrates how ill prepared the Opposition is to run our nation’s foreign policy.
It takes only a modicum of wit to realise that some of the answers to development in the small island states of the Pacific might lie in the more developed small island states of the Caribbean; that some of the answers to seeing mining yield a dividend to the general populace of PNG might be found in the successful outcome of mining in Botswana.
We live, as we always have, in an interconnected world where taking an interest in the learnings and experiences across the globe is the best way to achieve world’s best practice at home. In this sense running for the Security Council was the natural consequence of a country wanting to play its part in the world and wanting to constantly learn.
Doing this through placing our credentials before the world on a regular basis by running for the Security Council is healthy. For Australian Governments of all persuasions it has been the natural instinct. From 1946 to 1986 Australia served on the Security Council four times in forty years. Under the Howard Government Australia sadly lost its bid to be elected to the Security Council in 1996. Even after that Alexander Downer was keen for Australia to start another campaign in 2001.
Over the years the bi-partisan desire to run for the Security Council has been in Australia’s long term interest. The 2012 successful bid was born of exactly that tradition.
Quite apart from serving on the Security Council, the act of running for it has sharpened Australia’s foreign policy.
Speaking to African nations with whom we would not normally have much interaction has highlighted how fast the African continent is growing economically and how significant is the role being played by Australian mining companies. Government needed to play a bigger role, and now we are, with a much improved aid programme which focuses on mining for development and scholarships for Africa’s best and brightest.
In the Balkans, where there has been little bilateral government activity over the years, we have learned that the large Balkan communities in Australia actually give rise to a very special relationship between our countries: relationships which abound with opportunities and should be developed.
These learnings enhance our foreign policy and represent a legacy well beyond a two year term on the Security Council.
Being on the Security Council is a chance to highlight the security dimensions of climate change which is so important for the Pacific. It is a chance to pursue an Arms Trade Treaty that will limit the trade in conventional weapons which will make Africa a safer place. And it is a chance to show the world the role Australia has played in bringing peace to Bougainville, Solomon Islands and East Timor.
As a middle-sized country, the best chance we have to shape the world in a modest way and to understand events so that we can best position ourselves to take advantage of the currents of global politics, is to punch above our weight. It is not a matter of pride. It is simply the smart thing to do.
And so above all, the Security Council victory must now ensure that being an activist middle power becomes the mantra of Australian foreign policy.
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