Thursday 19 Jul 2018 | 06:39 | SYDNEY
Thursday 19 Jul 2018 | 06:39 | SYDNEY

G20 priority for Australia: 'Being there'


Stephen Grenville

14 April 2009 09:07

For Australia, the main 'win' from the London G20 meeting is that the G20 leaders will meet again, together with the wide acceptance that this group has supplanted the G7 as the principal world economic forum. A top priority is to retain our place at the table.

The more successful the London meeting, the greater the pressure to tinker with the membership. The pressures come in both directions: those arguing that it is too big to be effective, and others arguing that it needs wider representation.

The initial 19 countries were supplemented by various international agencies and regional representatives, bringing the effective membership up to nearly 30, adding weight to the call for culling. Others are calling for more representation from the poor countries.

The most powerful counter-argument is that the current core membership reflects several years of vexed argument and deal-making after the Asian crisis in 1997-98, and even if a more perfect group could be formed, there are too many urgent substantive issues to justify spending energy, time and political capital on membership refinement.

If the G20 is to get beyond righteous policy platitudes and hollow pleading on selfless causes, it has to limit its agenda and restrict its membership to countries that can actually make a contribution to the debate. The International Monetary Fund, with its wide agenda (padded by years of mission-creep) and broad representation has patently failed to provide a workable forum for addressing the Global Financial Crisis. Of the 185 countries represented at the IMF, those who would contribute usefully to this debate certainly don’t exceed 20.

The Fund’s managing director wants the poor more fully represented at the G20. This is an attractively worthy argument on the surface but is, in effect, a plea to saddle the G20 with the same pseudo-democracy that hobbles the IMF’s own governance, in which all 185 members are represented, after a fashion, around the table. All but the largest countries, however, are grouped together in 'constituencies' which ensure that their voices will be muffled, muted, ambivalent and ineffectual.

Australia might ask the IMF’s managing director on whose authority he is arguing for a wider G20 membership. Is this a desperate defence of his territory by lumbering the G20 with the same sort of feeble governance that his own institution demonstrates?

Photo by Flickr user London Summit, used under a Creative Commons licence.