Saturday 08 Aug 2020 | 22:24 | SYDNEY
Saturday 08 Aug 2020 | 22:24 | SYDNEY

Another view of the Rudd speech


Michael Fullilove


27 March 2008 07:49

Three elements of the PM’s speech to the ANU East Asia Forum struck me as interesting and important.

First, Mr Rudd made a strong case for the centrality of international policy in Australia’s national life: he said it is ‘the natural expression and extension of the nation’s domestic policy interests – not as some sort of policy exotica removed from the Australian mainstream, but as part and parcel of the interests of main-street Australia.’ Therefore, he said, we have no option but to be ‘fully globally and regionally engaged’. In conjunction with the length and breadth of his first major overseas trip – to Washington, London, Bucharest, Brussels and Beijing – the speech demonstrates the extent of Mr Rudd’s foreign policy ambitions and casts doubt on arguments that this government’s foreign policy will be a facsimile of it’s predecessor’s.

Second, he emphasised ‘creative middle power diplomacy as the best means of enhancing Australia’s national interests’:

Australia intends to prosecute an active, creative middle power diplomacy in partnership with the community of nations. We believe this is the rational thing to do in pursuit of our own core economic and security interests. We also believe this is the right thing to do because Australia can be a greater force for good in the world. The truth is that Australia’s voice has been too quiet for too long across the various councils of the world. That is why during the course of the next three years, the world will see an increasingly activist Australian international policy in areas where we believe we may be able to make a positive difference.

Creative middle power diplomacy (soon to be CMPD, no doubt) is obviously to be an important rhetorical and operational theme of the Labor Government’s international policies.

In response to the claim about ‘the various councils of the world’, Sam Roggeveen suggests that one sin of which the Howard Government was not guilty was inactivity. I think the PM is making two points here. Certainly, Mr Howard had access to the councils of power in Washington, but as I argued in my Curtin Lecture last year, it’s less clear how effective he was in translating that access into influence over US policy. Furthermore, there were other councils where his government was much less active than it might have been, in particular the UN.

Finally, Mr Rudd went out of his way in his remarks to signal continuity in Australia’s alliance responsibilities. He noted that acting as ‘effective international citizens’ means ‘operating in partnership with our longstanding ally the United States…the US continues to be an overwhelming force for good in the world.’ Elsewhere, he described the US as ‘the world’s pre-eminent power’. Those Americans who are worried that Australia might go wobbly on the Middle Kingdom (and there are some here in Washington) will note that references in the speech to China were relatively rare. Where they did occur, then either the bilateral economic relationship (rather than the political one) was emphasized, or China was grouped with other states.