Gareth Evans would have
been the next United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees if
Australia’s standing in the world body was higher. Sources in New York
and Canberra say Evans was on a final list of three contenders for the
job, which was eventually handed to Portugal’s Antonio Guterres. The
sources confirmed that there were two main stumbling blocks – first,
Canberra’s siding with the United States and Israel on an International
Court of Justice matter and, second, our record on refugees and asylum

Australia was one of five nations out of the 191
represented at the UN which voted against a Court of Justice decision
calling for the dismantling of the wall separating Israel from the
Occupied Territories. Canberra sided with the US, Israel and two other
Pacific Islands states whose votes were purchased – Pilau and the
Marshall Islands. One former top Australian diplomat today described
the decision as “one of Australia’s most disgraceful in a decade” which
reinforced the view in the world body that “we echo Washington’s
foreign policy.”

Crikey was told that as late as last week a top
aide of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan questioned Evans’s record on
refugees and asylum seekers while he was foreign minister, and it was
pointed out the current regulations and rules which attract worldwide
attention were drafted after the 1996 election when Evans was no longer
foreign minister and no longer a member of the Australian government.

source confirmed the Evans decision has wider implications in the UN.
While Australia continues to appear to be in the thrall of Washington,
any chance we may have of a seat on the prestigious Security Council is
diminished. The last time Australia was represented on the Council was
in 1985-1986 when Richard Woolcott was ambassador at the UN. Subsequent
lobbying by Richard Butler was unsuccessful.

While Gareth Evans
is held in extremely high regard in New York, lobbying by the
Government for him to be appointed to the UN job may have been the last
nail in his coffin. Canberra’s policies do not sit easily with many
members with long memories.