Australia’s NGOs have had their say on what Australia’s Foreign Policy White Paper should look like, but on Wednesday night, the voters got a chance. Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop participated in a Facebook Live Q&A, to try “to make foreign policy less foreign so that people can relate to how our foreign policy affects their day to day lives,” she said.
The session, which was just shy of the advertised 30 minutes, briefly touched upon Australia’s aid program, emphasising the role it plays in Australia’s strategy for a secure region. Bishop highlighted climate change as a priority within the aid program, noting that Australia is using its position on the board of the Green Climate Fund to “unashamedly” focus and direct climate funding toward Pacific Island nations.
The Q&A discussed the role a new white paper will have in achieving Australia’s interests, priorities and values over the next decade, creating a framework for international engagement. It was also aimed at getting citizens on board with the country’s plans for international engagement.
As Australia's ambassadors gather in Canberra to discuss foreign policy, including Australia's forthcoming Foreign Policy White Paper, Devex looks at submissions from NGOs to see what they want from Australia's international diplomacy moving forward.
“We are living in very unpredictable times,” Bishop explained. “There is significant economic, strategic, political instability around the world and Australia is an open export, market-orientated economy. We have interests globally and we decided it was time to look at our interests, our priorities and how we engage in this uncertain world.”
The Q&A highlighted how Australia is positioning itself to become a larger player in global politics. Devex have the key takeaways from the discussion.
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1. Australia has global goals
Australia may be just the 55th largest country by population, but with its 13th-largest economy, the country is “a significant economic player in global affairs,” Bishop said. The Foreign Policy White Paper is meant as a forward-looking document that is proactive — rather than reactive — to challenges.
Australia will particularly focus on continuing to build and develop its sphere of influence for the future of the Indo-Pacific region, in line with its current regional role. “Sometimes I don’t think we appreciate how significant our voice can be and how much influence we can have,” Bishop said.
2. Australia’s position in international disputes
Facebook Live participants raised questions about Australia’s positions on international disputes and challenges, including the South China Sea and North Korea. Bishop called the latter country “rogue,” saying it behaves unpredictably. International action, including by Australia, is directed at moving North Korea away from nuclear and ballistic missile testing and toward improving life for its impoverished population, she said.
“The amount of money and scarce resources that they are directing toward these arms programs is so out of proportion with what they spend on the people of North Korea,” Bishop said. “We want to be part of negotiations, not direct, but we want to be part of regional negotiations to ensure we can get North Korea to see sense.”
These international disputes will not figure directly in the white paper, she said. Rather, it will be a framework to address future issues, ensuring Australian interests, values and priorities are supported.
3. Economy and security are focal points of foreign policy
In an era of growing protectionism in countries such as the U.S. and the U.K., Bishop said that Australia’s foreign policy would remain outwardly focused.
Bishop argued international trade is the only way Australia’s economy can continue to grow, with foreign investment as an important catalyst to job creation within Australia. Selling goods and services overseas, or encouraging investment, requires Australia to have a foreign policy that creates economic connections with other countries. “It is a very competitive world,” Bishop said.
National security is Australia’s other priority from international engagement. The threat of terrorist organizations, Bishop said, requires Australia to work cooperatively with other nations to share intelligence.
4. The voice of youth needs to be heard
Since Australia’s Foreign Policy White Paper will determine how it engages with the region and the world over the next decade, Bishop said it was important to incorporate the voice of Australia’s youth.
“The decisions we make today obviously impact on the young people of the future, and what I want to ensure is that their voice is heard in the development of the white paper,” she said.
Bishop is working to create a generation of Australians who are savvy in global politics. The New Colombo Plan, a scholarship program from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, will have seen 18,000 Australian undergraduates studying and working in the Indo-Pacific Region since 2014 by the end of this year. “What is the point of that?” Bishop asked. “It is so that they have a greater and deeper understanding of our place in the world.”
5. Australia responds to Bishop on Facebook Live
Bishop’s Facebook Live Q&A did not get deep into Australians’ concerns or debates over international engagement. But with nearly 300 comments, the conversation demonstrated a broad range of opinion. Here are just a few:
“You say we're the 13th largest economy, when are we going to fulfill [sic] our commitment in not only seeing the MDG's achieved but showing leadership in seeing them met and succeeding, particular in our region?” — Shane Thaw.
“Why are we still giving aid to Indonesia especially with the recent news of their Military budget in the hundreds of millions of dollars? We should be looking after our Vets, Pensioners & Homeless before ANY foreign aid or bringing in migrants.” — Roslyn Lever.
Bishop’s consultation will continue, with the new Foreign Policy White Paper expected to be released later this year.
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