Do you think the Australian government has been giving enough attention to its more immediate neighborhood?
I think Australia has long looked to the north, and seen the potential that’s currently being realized in Southeast Asia. A key focus of the Howard government was building and maintaining the relationship with Indonesia, for example. Australia also became a member of the East Asia Forum, which I think was one of the key achievements of the government, with the support of countries like Japan. We also have strong free trade agreements with some Southeast Asian nations, and we support the free trade agenda of some countries in the region.
I don’t think Australia is widely recognized as the multicultural nation that it really is. We’ve welcomed migrants from around the world to our shores, and we certainly have many migrants from Southeast Asia, living in Australia and contributing to one of the most ethnically diverse nations on earth.
Why don’t you think Australia has been seen as culturally diverse? Is there anything the government could do to address that perception?
I think we should make more of it in our public diplomacy. We should be making a great deal of the fact that Australia is a nation of immigrants, and that we have people from every corner of the globe here. Not every nation can lay claim to that. This is a positive thing – it’s one of Australia’s strengths as a nation, and we’ve been able to do that in a relatively cohesive way. It’s a remarkable achievement, and I would say it’s the most successful multicultural experiment on earth.
Is there any aspect of Australia’s foreign policy you think has been neglected?
I think the greatest foreign policy challenges occur when there are significant shifts in strategic power. That’s been the case since the Peloponnesian War. We are seeing a shift from a unipolar world to a bipolar world. But I think that strong economic growth in India, in particular, offers potential for another leader in the region. I think that India certainly deserves more attention from Australia generally.
And I think most definitely from an Australian perspective, Papua New Guinea deserves much more attention. The events of recent weeks have proven that the Australian government should have been paying much more attention to the country. Papua New Guinea remains one of the poorest nations on earth, despite having enormous potential through a mining and resources boom that’s currently under way. However, it has been politically unstable in recent times, with the ill health of the long standing prime minister, Sir Michael Somare. He was essentially sacked from his prime ministership in his absence, and a new prime minister and cabinet took over.
Sir Michael challenged this in court, and the court overturned the decision to install Peter O’Neill as prime minister. There was a stand-off as the country essentially had two prime ministers, each of whom appointed their own governor general and cabinet.
So the country was in chaos. Fortunately, the military stayed out of it, and there will be a political solution. But the fact that our neighbor was on the brink of considerable conflict was quite troubling, and I feel that the Australian government didn’t have its focus on what was happening there.
Julie Bishop is Deputy Leader of Australia's Liberal Party and Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and Shadow Minister for Trade.