MARIUS BENSON: For a Government view on politics, on that and other issues, I’m joined by the Trade Minister Craig Emerson. Craig Emerson, good morning.
CRAIG EMERSON: And a very good morning to you, Marius.
BENSON: Now Mr Emerson — or Dr Emerson — the Security Council: the vote is next month. It’s been a big, long campaign by Australia: it’s been four years; tens of millions of dollars spent by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. As the Trade Minister, are you confident that’s money well spent?
EMERSON: I am. And you say it’s been a long campaign, and it hasn’t been anywhere near as long as our rivals for this, who are Finland and Luxembourg. We came in rather late …
BENSON: They’ve been going for 10 years. Ten years of lobbying.
EMERSON: I’m saying that Australia’s campaign hasn’t been as long as theirs, and the budget for this is under $25 million. We need to bring a regional perspective to the Security Council; we have obvious interests, as do other countries, in Afghanistan and the peace and stability in that part of the world. Pacific island nations seem to be supporting the Australian bid, which is a good thing, and we do have a good record in terms of peacekeeping operations — and we think we can bring a specially Asian and Pacific perspective on this, Marius. So it all makes good sense.
BENSON: But is the difficulty when you are lobbying against Finland and Luxembourg that Australia is seen as pretty much a carbon copy of the United States in the United Nations, so that when Julia Gillard — she’s meeting, I think, 10 African leaders including the Egyptian president this week — they see Australia as simply another version of America? You just get another American vote in the Security Council if you put Australia in there.
EMERSON: That’s not our experience and, indeed, Australia is seen more broadly in the UN system and around the world as a middle-level power with, if you like, good credentials. And what I mean by that is, and I know more I guess in our trade area, is honest brokers between parties who might have different perspectives. And we have gained that credibility over many years, and I might say not only by Labor governments but by Coalition governments.
BENSON: But just in terms of United Nations votes, we do vote more exactly with the United States than I think any other country.
EMERSON: Well, I haven’t seen the statistics on that, but I think certainly if you look at the two rival bidders, they are both from Europe. Do we want a fully Eurocentric addition to the Security Council? Or do we want to spread the influence and the perspectives by having Australia win one of those positions? With all due respect to our rivals — and I think this is friendly rivalry — but there is a strong argument that it not be too Eurocentric.
BENSON: Does it matter … is there … and Bob Carr was speaking about this yesterday as the Foreign Minister; about the benefits of being on the Security Council, and spoke in very general terms about connecting with the world. Is it possible to point to concrete benefits about spending $25 million to get on the Security Council for two years as a temporary member when the only votes that matter are the permanent members?
EMERSON: I think it’s important that Australia shows that it has credibility, that it’s a middle power, that it is able to perform the role of honest brokering — whether that be in the Security Council, trade negotiations or other international organisations and in negotiations such as on climate change. We have a well-deserved reputation for doing exactly that. The Security Council bid, if successful, would allow us to demonstrate yet again that position. The truth is that the word “globalisation” is used a lot, Marius. We helped establish the United Nations, but we are a global community and Australia does play an important part in the global arena.
BENSON: But, again, you’re speaking in such general terms …
EMERSON: Well, I am, but I’m not going to give you dollars and cents. We’re not going to get down into some sort of …
BENSON: But is there an issue or some concrete…
EMERSON: Yes. I have talked about the phased withdrawal from Afghanistan. I’ve talked about the peace and security in the Pacific islands and in the broader Pacific area. I mean, these are perspectives that we can bring. We were very well involved in setting up peacekeeping forces, including in Timor L’este: this is expertise that we can bring to the global community. But, of course, I am not going to — and I’m not sure you’re asking this question — I’m not going to give you a net economic benefit from it. It’s not about economics; it’s about Australia’s place in the world, where we are deservedly members of the global community who bring goodwill and credibility to these sorts of discussions. I think they’re very important in a world which is increasingly complex. There are international tensions from time to time, and if Australia can play a role in maintaining peace and security in the world and, in particular, in our own region then that’s good for our people.
BENSON: Looks like a busy month of lobbying ahead. Thank you very much.
EMERSON: Thanks Marius.
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