In the early hours of the morning Australian time, voting for the two-year temporary seats on the Security Council. Five years in the making, we thought that the ballot would be tight, that it might take until the second round of voting, if at all, before we secured one of the two vacancies on offer. The odds were good, two out of three nominees would get up. Our competition was Luxembourg and Finland, with many believing the latter to be the overwhelming favourite to secure the first spot.
Ultimately, and surprisingly, Australia prevailed after the first round. One hundred and forty votes was more than enough to get us over the line in a contest requiring 129 votes, a two-thirds majority of the UN General Assembly.
The importance and efficacy of the position on the UN Security Council was questioned by some. What could a temporary spot on a flawed body, where a veto power exists, offer Australia? That was the main question asked. The absence of an explanation, other than having a seat at the table, surely added to the confusion and a lack of interest domestically over what such a role might bring.
In effect though, a short-term chair on the UN Security Council will actually mean little or nothing in the short-term and even less in the long-term.
However, while the benefits of having a spot on the Security Council are few and far between, now that we have won the election, it is important that the role is taken incredibly seriously despite the fact that there are many factors which make the role practically pointless.
Australia must, over the two-year term, make a lot of noise and throw itself at the role without fear or favour. To not now fully and actively engage with the actions and processes, whether flawed or not, would actually damage our relative standing in the world.
This government and the next must be willing to sufficiently fund the position for the entire period we occupy that temporary spot. By virtue of the fact that the Labor Party, through former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd actually launched the bid and continued with it, it is clear that the ALP have a commitment to fully funding the 24 months that we will have a vote on the Security Council.
It is also equally as clear that while the Liberal Party disagreed with the priority of seeking election to the UN body, and still appearing sceptical of the benefits of such a move, they will commit to taking the temporary tenure seriously if in government. The Shadow Foreign Minister Julie Bishop confirmed as much this morning.
But that commitment from the Coalition does not come without conditions and rightly so.
As Julie Bishop said, the Gillard Government must now, since it really failed to prior to the bid, set out a clear list of priorities for the two years we have on the Security Council.
Later this morning, after Julie Bishop’s comments on breakfast television, the Prime Minister outlined the key issues that will be pursued and not surprisingly Afghanistan was at the top of that list, closely followed by Syria. Action has already been pursued in relation to the former and ongoing commitments will undoubtedly be wholeheartedly supported by the Security Council and the UN as a whole entity.
In the case of the latter, Syria, concrete and decisive action has already been blocked by the obstructionist body, with Russia and China using the veto power . In that sense, Australia, needing to pursue action in relation to Syria, are and will be fighting a losing battle.
We must have a focus and also a recognition that we cannot save the world from itself, even individual countries, in such a short period of time.
In commenting on the win this morning, Julie Bishop made another very sound point. We must use our time on the Security Council to push for reform of the UN. That task is immense and we will inevitably fail. The threshold to force change in the processes and workings of the UN and the Security Council is as high as the bar is to actually get resolutions to pass. But this is too important to not voice an opinion on and a strong conversation at the very least has to be commenced.
The time for complaining about the bid is now over. The emphasis now has to be on giving our diplomats the resources and governmental support needed to give a difficult task their best shot. To do otherwise would mean showing contempt for the world.
The Prime Minister often remarks, particularly in the parliament that her Labor Government are “getting things done” and the number of bills passed obviously does bear out this argument, although this does equal more regulation and “red tape” for business and the individual. It can also, by implication mean that policies and programs are being rushed and established processes not being followed correctly as has been alleged on a number of times over the period of both the Rudd and Gillard Government’s.
This argument is also borne out in the case of the Australia Network tender process which was deeply flawed, rushed, changed and awarded to the ABC in perpetuity despite recommendations to the contrary.
Today the Auditor-General released a report into the botched tender process which does not make for good reading for a government that is trying to gain a foothold to climb the gap that exists in the polls just under 18 months out from the next federal election.
The tender for the Australia Network was for a $223 million contract to broadcast news content overseas, an important form of what is termed “soft diplomacy”- in short, displaying through various media the Australian culture, values and policies which we think will make our nation an attractive place to continue to visit and conduct business with.
Initially, the process was under the purview of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and its minister at the time, Kevin Rudd, with departmental recommendations saying the government could extend the ABC contract or put the contract out to tender, with the department arguing to keep the contract with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs subsequently decided that the contract should be put to tender, with the winner of the contract granted a long contract to provide the news service.
The audit found that before the tender was awarded, that both the Prime Minister’s office and that of the Communications Minister, Senator Stephen Conroy were aware of which party would win the tender.
Then the weirdness escalated- the government began seeking advice as to whether the final nod of approval could be transferred to the Communications Minister from the DFAT Secretary Dennis Richardson and it was.
The tender then underwent significant changes and the leaks began in earnest. These leaks revealed that twice the tender board recommended Sky News be awarded the contract. They were not.
The Government walked away from the tender process after the leaks were reported in the press and then proceeded to award the contract permanently to the ABC which had previously been the broadcaster of the Australia Network.
This flawed process could legitimately be seen as both a symptom of a government in trouble politically and electorally, floundering in the polls and trying to rush to “get things done” and also as a result of a toxic relationship between Prime Minister Julia Gillard and former Minister for Foreign Affairs, Kevin Rudd, whose department should have had the final say on the award of the sizeable contract.
As a result, the government have had to pay compensation for a failure in managing a process and even managing internal relationships between MPs who should be seeking to achieve the same ends regardless of conflicts in personality. Not only that, but the ALP Government have added another failed process to the list of mistakes only adding to the poor perceptions of Prime Minister Gillard and her MP’s.