Friday 10 Apr 2020 | 00:34 | SYDNEY
Friday 10 Apr 2020 | 00:34 | SYDNEY

Who paying for all this activism?


Andrew Shearer

10 June 2008 12:31

Sorry to return to an old theme, but the contradictions between the Rudd Government’s increasingly elaborate ‘activist middle power’ foreign policy vision and the resources and effort needed even to make a start on delivering it just keep growing. In the last few months the government has announced: 

  • a bid for an Australian seat on the UN Security Council in 2012  – without providing a detailed cost-benefit analysis or much sense of what it hopes to achieve in the reasonably unlikely circumstance we are elected;
  • a breathtakingly open-ended proposal to create an Asia-Pacific Community by 2020 – again with little detail and, evidently, without consulting any of our major regional partners in advance; and
  • a warmed-over version of the Keating Government’s Canberra Commission to rid the world of nuclear weapons – again apparently with little prior consultation.   

I support Australia continuing to play a strong global role; the idea that our interests are confined to the South Pacific and Southeast Asia has always been absurd. I support stronger regional economic and security cooperation. And Australia should lend its support to sensible initiatives that seek to reduce the world’s nuclear stockpiles without being destabilising. But these ideas would stand much more prospect of success if they were developed beyond the stage of media sound-bites before being unveiled to an unsuspecting international audience, and if the necessary diplomatic spadework has been done in advance.

It’s hard to see who will be doing the policy development or the diplomacy to ensure these initiatives live beyond one media cycle: the government cut DFAT funding by $21.2 million in the 2008-09 budget and has not denied reports it plans total cuts of $100 million or more. Twenty-five overseas positions are being cut, and DFAT insiders say divisions are being asked to identify further savings. Will Gareth Evans and Dick Woollcott be doing their own staffwork?

Photo by Flickr user Stefson, used under a Creative Commons license.