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Foreign policy priorities-the government's and Australia's real ones

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19 September 1991


It has been clear for some time that Australia's foreign policy priorities have been misplaced.

The Hawke Government has given a special priority to a role for Australia as some kind of moral and constitutional tutor around the world (on South Africa, Fiji, etc). It has done so at the expense of what is our real foreign policy priority - namely, to enhance Australia's importance to, and in, the Asia-Pacific region.

At the National Press Club yesterday, the new Indonesian Ambassador to Australia, Mr Sabam Siagian, gave a timely reminder of some regional realities.

. He noted the relevance of Australia's current poor economic circumstances to perceptions of us in a region that is economically buoyant and dynamic

. He pointed to the expanding opportunities for Australian investment and trade which exist in Indonesia's rapidly growing economy

• He highlighted areas of co-operation where Australia and Indonesia together could achieve so much.

The Federal Opposition has consistently argued that the Australian Government's rhetoric about its relations with the Asia-Pacific region has not been matched by achievements in practice.

. Australia has barely scratched the surface of its economic potential in the region

. Due partly to our own economic mismanagement and partly to our diplomatic ineptitude, Australia's role and influence in the region are becoming increasingly marginalised

. The balance of our economic, political, strategic and human rights priorities in the region are too often inappropriate or inconsistent

COMMONWEALTH p a r l ia m e n t a r y library MICAH


. We have become too obsessed with grand visions, with moral righteousness and with delusions about our real capacities.

The real issue for the Australian Government goes well beyond the question of whether or not Mr Hawke will visit Indonesia - he clearly should undertake such a visit which is long overdue.

The real issue for this Government concerns its failure to get Australia's foreign policy priorities right, and in particular to give the Asia-Pacific region the focus and attention it deserves.

The danger signs are already there for Australia.

The Government must go beyond relying, as it currently does, on reactive diplomacy based on grandstanding and emotion. It must develop, as a matter of urgency, a strategic purpose in our foreign policy that gives genuine priority to achieving

practical results for Australia in our own region.