Tuesday 27 Sep 2022 | 17:55 | SYDNEY

Canberra Column

The UNSC seat: Australia, Israel and Palestine

In its quest for a UN Security Council Seat, to be decided by the General Assembly on Thursday, Australia has kept running into Israel and Palestine.  The race for the seat has been with Luxembourg and Finland, but Israel and Palestine have become a fascinating element of the contest for the

Coral Bell legacy: great writing

Coral Bell had the gentle manners of Miss Marple and a mind as sharp as Henry Kissinger's. Indeed, Kissinger was a fan of the grand dame who got the modern Oz equivalent of a gong in the 2005 honours for her 'service to scholarship and to teaching as a leading commentator and contributor to

Watergate, forty years on

The Watergate scandal not only gave America a nightmarish civics lesson, but brought about far-reaching changes to government, politics and journalism that are being felt still to this day. The power dynamic between the executive and legislative branches altered radically, as lawmakers on

Mauled by the media monster

Retiring politicians have an occasional habit of issuing a big valedictory warning to their nation. Think George Washington’s farewell advice against foreign entanglements and permanent alliances or Dwight Eisenhower\'s farewell fulmination about the military-industrial complex. The

Julia tour: Carefully does it

Julia Gillard is far from having a sure touch for foreign policy. Her approach to the international stage is marked by caution and convention. That should not be read as a criticism. A leader who can do caution and convention on the world stage is worth having. Imagination, flair and

Singapore & Oz: Round two

 Australia and Singapore have had two notable arguments recently — one economic and one strategic — over the rules of the game and who sets the rules. One stoush was about trading securities. The other was about regional security. On the economic side, Australia

Singapore slings and arrows

Australia is happy enough to be Asia's quarry and farm, but being a financial branch office for an Asian city-state is apparently too hard to contemplate. 'No-brainer' is the standout comment that will be long remembered from Canberra's rejection of Singapore's $8.4 billion bid to takeover

What should Julia read?

Julia Gillard heads to China this month representing Australia in the Giants' Playground.The image is lifted from the new book by Cameron Forbes, 'The Korean War: Australia in the Giants' Playground'.  I'm nominating this excellent book for a game all readers of The Interpreter are invited to

PNG: Memory and history

The Australian discussion of Papua New Guinea is often shaped by those who have forgotten too much history and those who can't move on from their version of history. The amnesiacs play the kiaps, but the discussion is Australia-centric. The amnesiacs (and Canberra has its share) speak of

PNG disciplines The Chief

No Australian Prime Minister will be forced to emulate Michael Somare and step down for failing to comply with the leadership code. Or be suspended for two weeks for failing to lodge returns on his financial dealings. But the only reason Australia will be spared this drama is because the

The Foreign Minister as media buffet

As revolution sweeps the Middle East, Australia's Foreign Minister has performed sterling work in one of the key non-declared duties of his post — Commentator-in-Chief. Kevin Rudd has been more than media tart. He has been media buffet.  This is not a criticism of the Foreign

China and the Great Asia Project II: Suffering Chinese burns

One of the many reasons the Canberra consensus on China is so strong is that both sides of politics have suffered similar diplomatic pains and carry matching scars. Labor and the Coalition know the hard reality of getting the Chinese burns: being on the receiving end of Beijing's version of

China and the Great Asia Project I: Peering into China\ future

All sides of Australian politics agree on the central significance China now has in the Great Asia Project which has obsessed Canberra for decades. The Canberra consensus on engaging China has been remarkably uniform as it has evolved since diplomatic recognition in 1972. China, always an

Reading the US tea leaves

One of the mysteries of the way Australian governments approach international affairs is the lack of scepticism, much less caution, about the United States. The embrace of the US in the Australian Parliamentary debate on Afghanistan and the hearty enthusiasm of the annual AUSMIN talks in Melbourne

Asia Project ambivalence and argument

The Australian polity agrees on the central importance of the Great Asia Project, but the consensus is marked by deep argument and a tinge of ambivalence. John Howard’s memoirs record his claim to stand in an unbroken line of Prime Ministers back to 1972, all engaged in what the previous

Reset on Seoul

On rare occasions it's necessary to hit the reset button on your most basic assumptions about a country's trajectory. The reset moment is not about the constant ups, downs and alarums of international affairs. The reset is the moment to acknowledge a change in the direction of a nation's fundamental


Australia took some bruises and shed some skin in the argument over an Asia Pacific Community or community. So it's ironic but strangely appropriate that Australia's Foreign Minister wasn't even present in Hanoi when ASEAN and the United States unveiled the decisive deal. The winner in the

Barack Obama: Pacific man, not Pacific warrior

Amid all the imaginings about Obama's leadership, my favourite future symbolic moment will be his first visit to Jakarta. In this scenario, the US President begins his speech with a couple of well-rehearsed sentences in Bahasa, constructed on the rusty foundations of his childhood schooling in

Australian uranium to India: Mad or bad?

To put the choice at its starkest: the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is more valuable to Australia than is our relationship with India. Diplomacy is devoted to avoiding such one-dimensional, zero-sum decisions. The aim is always to straddle and avoid choosing. Yet Foreign Minister

Chinese investment: Confusion and uncertainty

In talking with China about investment, Australia wants to reverse the punch line of the giant gorilla joke: Q: Where does a 500lb gorilla sit? A: Anywhere it damn well wants! With its administration of foreign investment guidelines, Australia is trying to tell

Salute and shut up

Beyond the golf versus swimming choice, former public servants and military officers can be divided into those who still hear the ring of the Minister’s phone call and those who don’t. Some can never abandon the closed-mouth habits of circumspection bred deep by years of service. Always, the

The leaks black market

Leaks can have many purposes – grudge, retribution, trial balloon, ego. Leaks are the currency of the political black market. And in Australia’s Parliament building, it’s a market everybody plays. Greg Terrill put it well in his book on secrecy and openness in Australian government: '

Army dances to its own rhythms

The Rudd Government may have hit the ground reviewing (great line, that) but the national security results are starting to chug through the pipeline. Ric Smith’s review of Homeland Security is done, as is most of the detail of the National Security Statement with the creation of a new National

The Pacific Way wanes

The Pacific Way is waning slowly into the waves. By even threatening to expel Fiji from the Pacific Islands Forum, the annual leaders’ summit has effectively read the last rites over the traditional Forum way of doing business. It’s ironic that Fiji, the country which did most to call into