EDITORIAL: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
Rudd's ego drives UN Security Council bid
, August 20, 2011
In the year between his appointment as Australia’s Foreign Minister and his recent heart operation, Kevin Rudd has embarked on an extravagant series of overseas trips to many parts of the world.
While Australians expect their Foreign Minister to travel where necessary, they also expect that the Foreign Minister would be prudent about his travel which is undertaken at public expense, and ensure that it was undertaken in the national interest.
It is undoubtedly legitimate for Australia, as a middle-ranking nation, to play a constructive role in international forums, including the United Nations, because it gives Australia a voice at the table when international conflicts are being mediated and when agreements which will affect Australia are being hammered out.
Questions have been raised as to whether the Foreign Minister’s jet-setting meets these standards, or whether the Foreign Minister’s extensive travel agenda is directed to winning votes for an Australian bid for the UN Security Council in 2013. In that year Mr Rudd will likely still be Foreign Minister, in which case his appointment as a representative on the Security Council could see him serve a term as president, possibly paving a way for a career in the international arena.
Over the past year, Mr Rudd and his entourage have clocked up over 400,000 km in overseas trips, more than his immediate predecessors in the same time.
Since September 2010, Mr Rudd has visited over 45 countries, including places such as Kazakhstan, United Arab Emirates, Liechtenstein, Bahrain, Jordan, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Finland, Sweden, Norway and the Horn of Africa, as well as some of our more traditional destinations such as the United States, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Indonesia and China.
Former Secretary of the Department of Defence, Hugh White, told the ABC’s 7.30 Report recently, “He’s now got himself to the point where the bid itself, actually gaining the seat, winning the vote, has become a foreign policy objective in its own right.”
Professor White added that “the pattern of Rudd’s travel since he became Foreign Minister has been unusually focused in parts of the world a long way from Australia. And I think that is a mistake. Clearly the Security Council bid has meant that Rudd, and for that matter other ministers, have spent a lot of time going to countries that, frankly, we wouldn’t bother visiting otherwise.”
As to whether Kevin Rudd’s tripping is justified depends, in part, on the prospects of success.
Elections to the UN Security Council take place once a year, and all member-states vote. But to ensure a wide geographic spread, members are chosen to represent regional groups. Australia is part of the “West European and Others” bloc which will have two representatives elected in 2013.
Both Finland and Luxembourg have already nominated, and the number of votes required to win is two-thirds of the number of nations in the UN, currently 193. That means that countries require 129 votes.
The problem for Australia is that both Finland and Luxembourg have been endorsed by the European Union, effectively locking in the 27 countries of the EU, and a number of other states which have applied for membership of the EU.
The last time Australia attempted to win a UN Security Council seat, in 1996, it was defeated in a secret ballot by two countries endorsed by the EU, Sweden and Portugal.
Additionally, both Finland and Luxembourg have been involved in large aid increases, particularly to Africa where there are over 50 votes up for grabs.
Interestingly, since Australia announced its Security Council bid, the amount of Australia’s foreign aid has also rocketed upwards. Aid for Africa has almost trebled to almost $300 million a year, and funding for the Caribbean is now 20 times higher than it was three years ago.
Hugh White told the 7.30 Report, “The primary motive for that has been to support Australia’s Security Council bid.”
However, both Finland and Luxembourg started their campaign for the 2013 post as far back as 2002, long before Australia.
Although Luxembourg is only a small country, it has long punched above its weight in the EU (of which it was a founding member), and at the UN. It has held the presidency of the Council of the EU at least 12 times, and takes credit for the EU decision, in 2005, to increase direct foreign aid to achieve a level of 0.7 per cent of GDP across the EU by 2015.
It has also vigorously participated in the UN, by regularly making large contributions to its funds and programs, as well as by taking part in peacekeeping missions and pursuing an active policy of development cooperation.
Given that Australia will not have the support of neighbouring countries such as Indonesia, India and China, while Fiji is campaigning hard against Australia among the nation states of Oceania, the Australian bid is doomed to failure, like the bid for the World Cup, in which Australia secured just one vote.
If Julia Gillard was seriously concerned about the waste of public money, she would stop the Foreign Minister’s extravagant and futile efforts to buy votes to put Australia onto the UN Security Council.
Peter Westmore is national president of the National Civic Council.