So what’s the point of a UN Security Council seat? That will remain something of a mystery to voters even after the government managed to secure a seat.

Bob Carr (more accurately “a jubilant Bob Carr”) this morning promised “an Australian agenda”, possibly for those who might have assumed Australia’s election would merely mean a second vote for the United States, involving nuclear non-proliferation, women’s rights and arms control. He also mentioned Syria, perhaps assuming that the efforts of a loyal ally of the US would somehow tip the balance in a stand-off between Assad’s sponsors on the Security Council and the West.

Perhaps the real benefit to the government, unusually for anything related to foreign policy, is actually in domestic politics. The Coalition, which unless politically desperate (think John Howard hosting APEC in Fortress Sydney), regards multilateralism as a form of left-wing lunacy, has been left looking a tad churlish after opposing the bid (while “in principle” supporting it, whatever that actually meant).

“A win’s a win,” Tony Abbott admitted today, with the sort of commitment to logical consistency and factual coherence that is frequently absent from his public statements. Labor gets to add a UNSC seat to its list of achievements the Howard government couldn’t manage — triple-A credit rating from all three major agencies, Finance Minister of the Year, 12th largest economy. All things that don’t mean a great deal to voters, especially with Labor’s lack of communication skills.

But while voters may be left wondering what the benefit of a chair “at the big table™” is, it caps a good foreign policy week for the PM, after she further eased the most problematic issue between Australia and India off the agenda. Labor of course would insist there’s no contradiction between working to supply uranium to a non-signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty and its “Australian agenda”.

Abbott, meanwhile, managed to spoil what should have been the minor coup of securing a meeting with Indonesian President Yudhoyono by repeating his failure to raise the towback issue, an omission of sufficient concern that The Australian began circling the wagons in defence of its man.

Both Gillard and Abbott are foreign policy neophytes, and neither have a great deal of interest in the area. Gillard has herself admitted this; Abbott demonstrated it in his Battlelines book, in which his views on the importance of the “Anglosphere” read like an undergraduate parody of Greg Sheridan. Gillard, however, has the virtue of incumbency, the legacy of Rudd and having hit it off with our imperial overlord Barack Obama.

The Prime Minister being out of the country, that was Kevin Rudd’s cue to again politely request that we pay him some attention. Whatever thinking is going on within the Rudd brains trust could do with some re-evaluation currently: Gillard has lifted in the polls, Labor’s vote has been dragged out of the catastrophic position it was mired in for much of this year, but Rudd is still acting as if Labor’s on 29% and a nervous caucus might be ready to turn to him any moment.

It’s said to be driven by the perception that Gillard need only make it to the end of the year to be assured of leading Labor to the election. This is a strange new political rule from the party that gave us Bob Hawke the day an election was called. Even John Howard contemplated bailing out just a couple of months short of an election to give his government a better chance of survival. There’ll be plenty of time next year for Labor to contemplate its options if Gillard’s recovery isn’t sustained. Nicola Roxon’s struggles over the Peter Slipper case again illustrate that Labor’s talent for manufacturing unforced errors remains ever-ready to burst out again.

The Liberals, too, have plenty of time as well to consider their options if that talent fails to manifest itself and the Prime Minister’s recovery continues.

Peter Fray

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