On the cusp of a new year, key opinion-makers tell Tom Lee and Jack Joy what they think Australia’s foreign policy objectives should be for 2009
James Ensor, Director of Public Policy, Oxfam Australia
Given the potential for the current financial turmoil to weaken international commitment to multilateralism, the coming year will be vital for the Rudd Government to drive effective global solutions to key global problems. Three priorities in particular stand out.
Firstly, Australia must use its unique role in the Cairns Group to drive a pro-development outcome for the Doha WTO Round – the first step is for the US and EU to move far further on ending agricultural subsidies and increasing market access for developing-country agricultural exporters.
Secondly, Australia should position itself as a key broker for a fair climate change deal in Copenhagen, which delivers adequate technology transfer and adaptation financing for developing countries – and which sees those countries historically most responsible for the build-up of current CO2 levels commit to doing the initial ‘heavy lifting’ on emissions reductions.
Thirdly, with the international system manifestly unfit for the purpose of addressing conflicts such as those in Congo and the Sudan, Australia should drive further progress towards a UN Arms Trade Treaty and aggressively advocate the recently agreed ‘Responsibility to Protect’ doctrine to secure the protection of civilians in conflict situations.
The economic challenges facing the Pacific region are enormous. A successful regional trade agreement [RTA] should be negotiated within the context of the Pacific Partnerships for Development [which the federal government has formed with countries in the region], with the threshold question being the extent to which the terms of any agreement contribute to sustainable pro-poor development within the region. This will recognise the importance of carefully targeted and sequenced trade liberalisation and the need for ‘policy space’ for Pacific Governments to regulate to maximise the benefits of liberalisation for local industry.
This approach, however, has been the antithesis of the EU’s recent self-interested and ham-fisted attempt to negotiate an RTA with the Pacific – and a key reason why Pacific negotiators will be extremely cautious in their approach to negotiations with Australia and New Zealand.
Andrew Jakubowicz, Professor of Sociology, University of Technology, Sydney
Australia’s role IN the world requires some active remodelling. The last time around when Australia tried for the UNSC [United Nations Security Council], it was trashed. It was seen as an American client, with a poor rights record in relationship to Indigenous people. The Sydney Morning Herald banner at the time cried, ‘Why does the world hate us?’. If we can answer that without losing our remaining integrity, then a UNSC position [in 2013] would be valuable in advancing our wider social and economic agendas.
Australia needs to see itself as an autonomous player, with our national interest lying in a productive, secure and respectful world. We really have to detach ourselves from being seen as a toady of the USA. The relationships we need are fairly obvious – Indonesia, India, China and so on. We also need to move beyond the strategy of surrounding ourselves with failed island states as buffers against larger threats.
[With regards to refugees] we need a Bill of Rights that covers everyone. It is clear that without such a shield the growing power of the executive government is almost totally untrammelled. In general we do somewhat better than most countries in accepting overseas refugees. However, most countries have internal and cross-border refugees, so we need to be aware of what we do not do.
There are a lot of damaged people as the result of our policies in the past. We owe them a great deal, and should ensure we pay our debts. It’s the Aussie way.
Kevin Rudd, Prime Minister
[Our] foreign policy agenda is to act on disarmament, to build an Asia-Pacific community and to engage in the creative diplomacy of progressive middle powers in building a more resilient international order for the future, one capable of dealing effectively with the global financial crisis, with the global financial system, with the global challenge that is climate change and with the great challenge and opportunity represented by the rise of China in the dawn of this, the Asia-Pacific century. These are the challenges which now lie ahead of us. These are the challenges to which this reformist government is committed to progressing.
And for Australia that will mean building the closest possible partnership with the United States under this new Obama administration. Our alliance with the United States is not preserved by any individual political party. Constructed and formed and shaped under 12 American Presidents and 13 Australian Prime Ministers over many decades – Labour and Liberal, Republican and Democrat – it is not the political property of any single political party. And that’s why it has been wrong for one political party in Australia to, from time to time, have seen it as their political advantage to attack the candidate for the presidency of the United States. Let us hope that error is not committed again in the future. It is not in our national interest that it should ever occur again.
Barack Obama spoke of hope – hope for America and hope for the world. The challenges are great and we need to be inspired by hope and committed to a programme upon action. And this government in Australia stands prepared to work with the incoming administration of the United States in dealing with these challenges of the global order – fuelled by hope and fuelled also by a practical resolve to get real results.
Kevin Rudd was speaking at the launch of Gough Whitlam: A Moment in History, by Jenny Hocking
Andrew Beswick, Campaigns Manager, Amnesty International Australia
As we mark 60 years of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it is essential that, as Australia returns to a multi-lateral approach in international relations, it re-establishes itself as a prominent advocate for human rights.
Start setting an example such as supporting greater justice for people living in poverty by being among the first to ratify the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, once it has been passed by the UN General Assembly. Australia should also continue resettling refugees from Iraq in this country, including Palestinians currently left in limbo on the border with Syria.Correct the shortcomings of the recent past and send a clear international message that Australia supports the human rights of Indigenous peoples, after Australia was one of the few to vote against the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007.Take a constructive leadership role in the Asia-Pacific region, using its political, economic and people-to-people ties with regional countries to be a stronger advocate for human rights. Australia must work collaboratively with the Association of South-East Asian Nations on Burma and promote human rights in the Pacific at the Pacific Islands Forum, in particular calling on parties to address violence against women.Australia also must take a consistent and principled approach on the death penalty. In addition to supporting greater regional political and economic cooperation, Australia must promote regional human rights mechanisms for the Asia-Pacific, as exists in Europe, the Americas and Africa.
Kevin Hobgood-Brown, Chairman, Australia China Business Council
The Australia China Business Council has been a long-time supporter of a free trade agreement with China. But in reality, I don’t think there will be any breakthroughs at the negotiating table unless figures at the highest level of seniority start saying, ‘OK, let’s make some decisions. Let’s call the shots.’
Kevin Rudd has a very, very capable trade minister [Simon Crean] who has the political will and other skills to do a deal in the best interests of his country, [but] it is the two leaders [Rudd and China’s president Hu Jintao] that need to make sure their teams keep the ball rolling and show some real progress.
Unfortunately, I think that if you look at the state of affairs in both countries right now, as well as the global economic situation, scarce resources are being stretched thin. Nonetheless, with a global economic slowdown it makes it more imperative than ever that we have a free trade agreement with China.
We need to put in place an institutional framework between the two countries so that we can make what is good today, really fantastic tomorrow, enabling us to broaden and deepen our relationship. By creating this framework we can ensure that the other things that Australia offers, services for example, have easy access to the Chinese market and that investment and participation in the Chinese market by Australian providers will flourish and be able to compete on a level playing field with their Chinese counterparts, performing joint ventures and entering into other kinds of business relationships.
Alan Dupont, Director, Centre for International Security Studies, University of Sydney
South-East Asia has been a relative sea of tranquillity over the last 20 or 30 years, and by and large it is a success story for Australia in terms of our engagement in the region. Despite the stability that has been achieved, I think we need to have a closer look at what’s happening in some areas, as there are some slightly worrying developments, not just in the pariah states like Myanmar.
In Thailand and Malaysia, they still have endemic problems of corruption and dysfunctional political cultures, coupled with ongoing troubles with secessionist and terrorist organisations. These persistent insurgencies in parts of South-East Asia are not necessarily getting worse, but they have the capacity to link and spread.
The government needs to focus on some of these problem areas and take notice of these threats. They have crept up on us because they are not headline issues, and it’s easy to miss the broader currents there.
We need to have renewed emphasis on what’s happening in our own immediate neighbourhood. While the Howard government focused more on North-East Asia, and quite rightly, we have taken our eye off the ball in South-East Asia, and I think we need to monitor some of the region more carefully.
Julian Burnside, lawyer and human rights activist
I think the way we’ve treated asylum seekers and refugees over the last seven or eight years has damaged our reputation internationally. Whether that has consequences for seeking a seat on the Security Council is unclear. But at least for national pride, we should be concerned about any institutionalised conduct that brings us into disrepute.
It’s an interesting thing to reflect on that, if by a trick of geography Australia were eligible for entry into the European Union, we would be disqualified from the outset because of our human rights record, specifically our treatment of refugees. Australia looks to Europe for origins and principles and systems of government and it is a very striking thing to think that we fall below the minimum requirement for human rights that the EU has adopted. In particular, it’s because we jail innocent people – men, women and children – and we jail them indefinitely.
It’s difficult for us to speak on the international stage if we have significant human rights shortcomings at home. Although the apology to the Stolen Generation in February was great, and noble, it hasn’t completely washed away our pretty sorry record of the treatment of Aborigines and we still haven’t been able to reconcile with Aborigines in any meaningful way. It’s a great piece of unfinished business. Could you imagine Australia trying to speak with any sort of authority about the American treatment of American Indians, or the Canadian treatment of Inuits?
Tom Albanese, CEO, Rio Tinto
In my view, Australia should be acting to ensure that it continues to attract mining investment by both domestic and foreign players to sustain maximum development. This will include the continual enforcement of a clear and open market framework for the review and acceptance of foreign investment. In general this means being open to investment capital and investment partnerships from a range of sources, including both traditional players and emerging majors.
Consistent with its national interests, Australia should build stronger linkages with its most important growth markets through continually improving trade relationships. This may include being more flexible in accommodating the needs of customers, including allowing ownership stakes in existing and new resource producers. This worked for Japan, this can work for China.
This is likely to involve allowing foreign investment, consistent with Australia’s national interest, by those companies and investors looking to integrate vertically. Australia being open to investment is the best way to encourage investment reciprocity, which should be an objective of trade negotiations.
Australia needs to sustain a critical mass of resource companies that facilitates the development of a diverse, dynamic and globally capable resource support industry – or a ‘cluster’, if you like. In this way, internationally competitive resource companies themselves spawn new competitive companies. This will ensure that Australia remains at the cutting edge of innovative thinking in the global resource sector.
Australia should ensure that its capacity to maximise its share of demand for its commodities, and attract global capital, is underpinned by first-rate infrastructure and appropriate infrastructure policy settings. Australia must ensure that its management of issues such as private rail access and publicly owned infrastructure planning do not undermine its international competitiveness.
Tom Albanese was speaking to the Melbourne Mining Club, 20 October, 2008