Our rightful place at the table of world powers
An op-ed I wrote on what Australia will strive for on the UN Security Council, published in The Daily Telegraph on Monday, October 22:
Last month gathering votes for Australia, I visited the foreign minister of one of the worlds great powers and we had discussions about subjects, as they say among foreign ministers, of mutual interest.
After the meeting he said: “We will vote for you … I’ve discussed it with the president. He agrees Australia is a serious country.”
This power has diplomatic links that span the globe. It has a stake in peace and security. And it views Australia on the other side of the world – as a serious country.
Nice compliment but it’s also true. It’s confirmed in the Solomons where we intervened to rescue an island people from armed conflict between clans. And it’s reflected in our nation building in East Timor and peacekeeping and reconstruction in Bougainville.
In the past seven months I’ve learned more about the good role Australia plays. In addition to peacekeeping, there’s our overseas aid which, for example, is helping Cambodia get rid of avoidable blindness and improving the lives of poor women in Indonesia through small business loans.
Australia’s foreign policy is about protecting our national interest and about doing the right thing. The two go together. And as a member of the UN Security Council, we’ll be able to help steer others towards our concepts of sound global citizenship.
On Thursday, within hours of Australia’s election to the Security Council, I spoke to UN secretary-general Ban ki-Moon about my plan to protect health workers, ambulances and hospitals in Syria. Each day Syrians are under fire from rockets and bombs. I’ve promoted the idea of calling on all sides – the Assad regime and all the opposition forces – to leave hospitals and medical staff alone and to let medical supplies through so the lives of those injured can be saved, no matter what side they are on.
I’m hopeful Russia would support an agreement despite opposing other action in Syria.
In the absence of a ceasefire and political negotiations, both sides should be able to agree to this pared-back proposition.
On the Security Council we’ll be working for the rights of women and girls – to education, training and jobs, and to maternal and reproductive healthcare. Its what we’re already doing in Myanmar, Indonesia and elsewhere in the Asia Pacific.
We’ll also be working to arrest the spread of weaponry around the planet through a small arms and light weapons treaty. It would force countries to be responsible for the weapons they export – forcing them to monitor firearms sales and compelling them not to sell weapons where they’ll end up in a civil war or terrorism. We get credit from the Caribbean and African states for being one of the seven original sponsors of an arms trade treaty.
Winning international ballots is always tough for Australia – when we bid for major sporting events and in the world of diplomacy.
We’re not part of any big bloc like the European Union with its 27 members and the nine or so nations aspiring to join it. Nor are we positioned as a South American country would be: Argentina with the support of all the Latins, was elected unopposed.
We had to work hard for it. In the good global citizen stakes we earned that win. Now we aim to justify it.