Win or lose at the UN, we’re still very under represented
On Friday, Australia time, the United Nations in New York will decide on which of three states: Finland, Luxembourg or Australia, will be awarded a Temporary Seat on the Security Council.
Much has been made not only of the Government’s decision to seek the seat but also the process that surrounds contending nations’ efforts to lobby individual countries and their groupings. Conservatives have been particularly critical of an increase in Australian aid to Africa.
In truth, the decision of voting nations will not be determined by such vague machinations. The core issue is beyond whether we offered sufficient last minute aid to Africa, or whether Luxembourg secured Pacific island votes by attending five years meetings of the Melanesian Spearhead group. The real dangers of such analyses lies in what they are inclined to obscure.
Critically, it is Australia’s inventory of under-represented overseas missions and personnel that should be the focus of our attention. In fact, it is Australia’s chronically low level of overseas representation that will be primarily responsible if we do not gain the Security Council position, not fanciful allegations of a spendthrift campaign.
Australia has the 12th largest economy in the world, but ranks very poorly in terms of the numbers of diplomatic missions, markedly smaller than both the OECD and G20 average and countries with comparable populations. The smaller nations of Finland, Sweden, Norway, Belgium, and the Czech Republic have diplomatic networks larger than Australia, we rate just above Slovakia and New Zealand.
In another report, The Lowy Institute also concluded that our low level of diplomatic representation is “seriously compromising our ability to deal effectively with the world” and that our “economic, political and security interests could be seriously jeopardized”.
Quite simply, we have not mentally caught up with the fact that, as a Member of the G20, we have not only added rights but also added responsibilities. This will be partially addressed by a dramatic increase to Australian foreign aid, to $7.7 billion per annum by 2016.
Our foreign aid is a related problem in and of itself, which needs further refinement. Currently our overseas assistance, now sitting at $5 billion will not rise to .05% of GDP as envisaged by the Government. Even with the increases up to 2016, our aid lobby protests but foreign assistance continues to grow as a result of Australia having one of the fastest growing GDP’s in the world.
In the future these priorities will be partially addressed by a dramatic increase to Australian foreign aid to $7.7 billion per annum, an issue in and of itself, which needs further refinement. If we are to make a long term impact on international affairs commensurable with our size and seriousness then we require an increase of at least twenty in the number diplomatic posts to take us to a level with others in the G20 and OECD economies.
Testimony to a Foreign Affairs Committee’s investigation into increased Australian representation overseas has shown again and again that we need posts in North Asia and Central Asia, West Africa and Latin America.
It would be generally positive for Australia to win a temporary seat on the UN Security Council. Not because we are the “12th biggest contributor to its (the UN’s) annual budget” as Josh Frydenburg MP argued in The Herald Sun on Monday, but rather because we are a democratic country which supports Human Rights.
It is frankly a cheap and malicious claim that Australia’s foreign policy is too pro American as former PM Malcolm Fraser has insisted and that this is the reason we will lose the UN bid.
How under-represented are we? Our fine Ambassador in Nairobi, Geoff Tooth, represents not just Kenya, but also Burundi, Rwanda, the new country of South Sudan, as well as Somalia, Eritrea and Tanzania. Ambassador Tooth is a talented bloke, but he and his hardworking team cannot possibly cover all of this important territory all of the time.
Evidence to the public inquiry of the Foreign Affairs Committee demonstrates we are unrepresented in the Maghreb and in Latin America. Currently, the Embassy in Moscow is also responsible for Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
Nor are we represented in the “Stans” (Soviet Central Asia as they were once called), despite briefly having an Embassy in Astana,( Kazakhstan). Ukraine, a country of “only” 55 million people, full of mining engineers (I can hear our mining oligarchs salivating) is bereft of an Australian Embassy.
The difficult and alienated (from Moscow) group of countries; Georgia, Azerbaijan and Moldova and Ukraine would be much better represented by Australia from Kiev, rather than far away embassies in Vienna or Moscow.
Earlier this year, as Chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, I asked then-DFAT Secretary Dennis Richardson what he would be able to achieve, in terms of priorities in new diplomatic postings, if he were allocated each of three annual increases - $25 million, $50 million and $75 million?
He later responded that with the lowest figure we would see representation in Astana (Kazakhstan), Ulaanbatar (Mongolia), Dakar (Senegal), Phuket (Thailand) and Funafuti (Tuvalu). The second round ($50 million) would add Algiers (Algeria), Luanda (Angola), Chongqing (inland China), Bogota (Colombia), and Dar es Salaam (Tanzania).
The third round ($75 million) would add Rabat (Morocco) and, although I strongly disagree, Oslo (Norway) and Bern (Switzerland). In a subsequent appearance before the Committee, Richardson also prioritised criteria to determine the locations of posts. These included strategic “weight”, trade, global coverage and regional proximity.
My view is that $75 million allocated to increase our diplomatic missions would bring substantial benefits to Australia. Richardson concurs that relatively small increases in expenditure would permit a serious and coherent expansion of Australia’s overseas representation.
Perhaps as a reflection of the tepid interest by the Federal Parliament in expanding taxpayer expenditure, there is little transparency in the destination and efficacy of our overseas aid dollars. Unlike the UK with the House of Commons International Development Committee, Canada’s House of Commons Standing Committee on Economic Cooperation and Development and Germany’s Committee on Economic Cooperation and Development, Australia has no Parliamentary supervision of its overseas aid program.
Talks are quite advanced in establishing a new Foreign Aid Sub-Committee where taxpayer expenditure would be closely regulated and monitored.
Dennis Richardson the past secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs, was clear and positive in his response before the committee as to what a relatively small increase in Australia’s diplomatic expenditure would achieve - a serious and systematic expansion of Australia’s overseas representation. My view is that a small reallocation, say $75 million towards diplomatic missions, taken from the $7.7 billion overseas aid program, would bring significant overall benefits for Australia and for the overseas recipients of Australia’s largesse.
Let’s hope our intense campaign to gain the temporary Security Council seat for Australia is a success, but let’s also ensure that we recognise the independent and urgent need to increase our diplomatic presence in line with our global stature and highest aspirations. Don’t ask me where the money is coming from, I have already thought of it.
Michael Danby is the Chair of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade.
Comments on this post will close at 8pm AEST.
Read all about it
Up to the minute Twitter chatter
The latest and greatest
Good morning Punchers. After four years of excellent fun and great conversation, this is the final post…
I have had some close calls, one that involved what looked to me like an AK47 pointed my way, followed…
In a world in which there are still people who subscribe to the vile notion that certain victims of sexual…