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Sep 10, 2013

Memo to Tony Abbott on foreign policy

Tony Abbott is no expert on international affairs -- and now he's in charge of the country. Retired diplomat Bruce Haigh has written Tony a how-to guide.


Foreign policy is not Tony Abbott’s strong suit. Bruce Haigh, a retired diplomat and regular political commentator for Crikey, decided to give the prime minister-elect some tips.

Stay out of the day-to-day issues of foreign policy. Intervene when the presence of a prime minister will make a difference.  Be mindful of Kevin Rudd’s over-intervention and lack of consultation with neighbours, and Gillard’s under-involvement. The art of a prime minister with respect to successful forays into foreign policy is knowing when to press the appropriate button.

The art of conducting a successful foreign policy is to have an intelligent, mature and sophisticated person as foreign minister. To this end, Malcolm Turnbull should be given the job. The foreign minister conveys the messages Australia wishes to send to the international community. The manner in which those messages are conveyed is important, so image is a key tool in the knapsack of a foreign minister.

Believe it or not Australia’s international image has taken a hit in recent times. It’s no good putting out the message that Australia is a just and fair country and the greatest thing since sliced bread, and then detaining refugees indefinitely as ASIO has done, apparently in order to secure the support of the Sri Lankan government in stopping boats. The UN Human Rights Committee recently identified 143 violations of the UN Human Rights Convention with respect to these refugees. They referred to their treatment as cruel, inhumane and degrading. These findings do not go unnoticed or unremarked internationally. Your frontbenchers Julie Bishop and Scott Morrison found nothing amiss when they visited Sri Lanka recently; however the UN Human Rights Commissioner, Nari Pillay, did. She found that Tamils continue to be treated as second-class citizens in the country of their birth and many are being persecuted.

“The conduct of regional foreign policy does not require boxing gloves.”

Indications of an early visit to Indonesia by you are welcome. Full and frank discussions are unlikely to occur, that is not the Indonesian way of doing business. Under these circumstances it would be wise to  get some briefing and coaching on how to read Indonesian body language and the nuanced method of conveying information. The conduct of regional foreign policy does not require boxing gloves.

All regional and Pacific heads of state should be treated with the greatest of respect. The impact of Australian decision-making on fragile political systems, economies and egos should be carefully assessed .

The long-term viability of refugee policies with respect to Manus and Nauru, not to mention the refugees, should be very carefully weighed. Bombast has no place in the making and conduct of foreign policy.

The instinct of not intervening in Syria is sound. Already with the delays caused by uncertainties in the US political system, talk amongst the major players has begun. It might be considered wise to get the UN talking through the good offices of Australia’s current presidency of the UN Security Council; it might surprise what suggestions and compromises might emerge. Consider the possibility that President Bashar al-Assad may be little more than a figurehead, kept in place by mutually beneficial arrangements between powerful competing forces within the ruling party. He may in fact not be in a position to deliver on undertakings.

The new brand of American foreign policy to shoot first and ask questions later must be resisted. It is not good for our friendship with the US and it does little to promote friendships elsewhere. We should be using our time on the UNSC to find the middle ground, particularly now with our presidential responsibilities.

Our relationships in the Middle East need to be better tuned and more even-handed, particularly with respect to Palestine and Israel.

We can use our time on the UNSC to push for the strengthening of international law, particularly with respect to multinational companies seeking to evade tax.

Australia should seek to reduce the prospect of a regional arms race. It should develop a relationship with China independent of the agenda and pressure being applied on us by the US.

Our concerns for the environment, global warming, protection of fisheries and whales should be firmly and reasonably put. This is a combined prime ministerial and foreign minister responsibility. Australia needs to be taken more seriously than just in the world of sport; however, reliance on Australian sport to deliver international prestige would be a risky undertaking on recent past performances.


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18 thoughts on “Memo to Tony Abbott on foreign policy

  1. @Keening_Product

    Turnbull would make for an interesting choice. Him in that role would also take Abbott’s main leadership rival out of the country often,which might be a good thing from the PM’s perspective in the future.

  2. @Keening_Product

    Turnbull could also show the rest of the world his wonderful internet invention!

  3. Gavin Moodie

    What’s wrong with Bishop as foreign minister? I don’t agree with her politics, but I don’t see why she isn’t ‘intelligent, mature and sophisticated’.

    Please don’t stoke US hegemony by calling the country between Canada and Mexico the name of the whole continent.

  4. Andybob

    P.J. O’Rourke noted that whatever it was that governments did, most people preferred that it be done to someone else. This, he surmised, was the beginning of foreign policy. On that basis I say Cousin Jethro for foreign minister.

  5. Kevin Herbert

    Bruce Haigh says:

    “Our relationships in the Middle East need to be better tuned and more even-handed, particularly with respect to Palestine and Israel”.

    Myself & I’d estimate more than 70% of Australia’s Jews would agree with that sentiment. Having our foreign policy dictated by the US MIC & AIPAC is increasingly nauseating.

    This fact is in play in the US Congress’s deliberations on Syria, where the MIC & AIPAC are not getting their way for the first time since 1970’s. And why is this happening?
    Simply because the now disgraced US Zionist controlled MSM can longer control the public message on major global events due to the rise of the net.

    These groups are pure evil.

  6. Gavin Moodie

    The US military machine lost the public relations war about Vietnam, years before the net. So I don’t think the public’s opposition to attacking Syria has got much to do with that. More to the US’ intelligence and military failures with Iraq.

  7. Blair Martin

    Brilliant last sentence. The joy of having a career diplomat writing on foreign affairs not a politician/lawyer.

  8. Kevin Herbert

    Gavin Moodie:

    Bishop showed her lightweight foreign affairs status when she threatened to withdraw funding, if elected, from a group of esteemed Australian academics expressing their views on a contentious foreign policy matter.

    Definitely not the mind set of a worthy foreign minister..but let’s see how she goes with a political blowtorch to the belly…I’m tipping she’ll be gone within 12 months

  9. Griffiths Karen

    Is this the new season of “An idiot abroad?”

  10. klewso

    Lady Penelope – Thunderbirds are go?
    What good’s someone else’s bon mot if you can’t dress it up as your own?

  11. Gavin Moodie

    I agree it was outrageous for Bishop to threaten to withdraw funding from a distinguished university because she and her supporters disagreed with a position put by a couple of the university’s academics. But unfortunately similar threats were made or implemented by finance spokesperson Andrew Robb, Jamie Briggs as chair of the Coalition’s Scrutiny of Government Waste Committee and by Brendan Nelson when he was the Coalition’s education minister.

    But while I object very strongly to these attempts to suppress views that Liberals disagree with, I’m not yet convinced that this makes these Liberals any worse candidates for foreign minister. I would have thought that a greater difficulty for Bishop is her unbalanced position on a contentious foreign policy matter.

    As Haigh wrote, Australia’s relationships in the Middle East need to be better tuned and more even handed, and perhaps that is why he prefers Turnbull to Bishop as foreign minister.

  12. MJPC

    Interesting article which appears to say that Abbott will be behind the 8 ball from the start.
    I though J Bishop was the appointed foreign Minister to be. She can give those wily indo’s the death stare acrss the table during the “cash for sinkers” negotiations.
    With J Howard as his hero we can be assured for the next term we will be following the US into every foreigh adventure, and undeclared war, they undertake at the behest of Israel. The Brits learned their lesson, hence no to Syrian adventurism, Abbott will not be able to resist such photo ops military operations present.
    Also, reference the Middle East, Abbott has already presented his calling card to various Aust-Israeli business groups on the lead up to the election so those poor Palestinians have no hope of a fair hearing at the UN if his government has their say.

  13. CML

    @ MJPC – The latest news re Syria seems to be that Russia is brokering a diplomatic solution involving international control of all Syrian chemical weapons, with the end result of destroying them all. Syria is in agreement, and President Obama is reported as saying that would be a far better solution than active military involvement by the US and others. One can but hope that sanity will prevail.
    Seems they are proceeding down this path, but I don’t think they consulted the rAbbott!! We thank the gods for small mercies!!!

  14. tonyfunnywalker

    Good advice =but what about Julie Bishop. She did not start well with Indonesia by “verbalizing” the Foreign Minister.
    You are paying scant regard to our role as Chair of the Security Council and do nothing on Syria is not an option. When the UK and Turkey start scrambling interceptor jets I get nervous of a preemptive strike while the US procrastinates. There is no one in the Liberals that can fit the Bill unless they recall Downer to the Senate as Labor did with Carr. Turnbull has no diplomatic experience and he would have some problems in Singapore from his days as a lawyer. Rudd will be hoping the new leader makes him the shadow minister so that he can still write for the US journal Foreign Affairs and keep his name before the UN and other bodies. I disagree with you on Gillard and her interest in Foreign Affairs – she left it to Rudd !!!!- but when she did get involved – she was able, like in so many other areas of her PM ship make lifelong friends for Australia and win respect for Australia in the international sphere.

  15. The Pav


    Don’t forget that Bishop also said that foriegn policy would be solely about advancing Austrlai’s economic interests

    Hardly a blanced, nuanced or intelligent basis on which to interact with the world

  16. Mike R

    From the above earlier today.
    “‘Our relationships in the Middle East need to be better tuned and more even-handed, particularly with respect to Palestine and Israel’.
    Myself & I’d estimate more than 70% of Australia’s Jews would agree with that sentiment”.

    I would think 70% is understatement , I reckon at least 90% would think along those lines. Bruce Haigh did not specify in which direction the past policy has been unbalanced.

    As for ‘Simply because the now disgraced US Zionist controlled MSM can longer control the public message on major global events due to the rise of the net.’ Another particularly inane comment. I gather in the eyes of the above, the internet has just arrived on the scene as of August 21st 2013. Prior to this communication was by wire and string.

    Contrary to the assertion, It seems that the leadership of AIPAC has, as of yesterday, changed it’s mind and started to lobby Congress for a strike on Syria at the urging of Obama (a bit late now thank goodness) despite their earlier preference to stay out of the whole mess. You can read all about the top secret plot by the cabal in the US Zionist controlled MSM New York Times web site – http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/10/world/middleeast/lobbying-group-for-israel-to-press-congress-on-syria.html?hp&_r=0 .

    As for Malcom Turnbull I agree with Bruce Haigh that he might be just the man to rebalance the Mid East policy see – http://www.malcolmturnbull.com.au/issues/2013-yom-haatzmaut-address.

    It is clear that many of those that regularly contribute to the comments section are likewise unbalanced to the point of being unhinged when it comes to the Middle East. We all have our biases but there is a distinct inability for some to venture beyond the four legs bad, two legs good mentality as witnessed by evidence free assertions that the sinister hand of Israel is behind every conflict in the Middle-East.

  17. Kevin Herbert

    Every lightweight poster on Crikey & elsewhere ultimately brings themselves undone with a outstandingly stupid assertion which clearly illustrates they have no idea of the fundamentals of a discussion. The following statement “….as witnessed by evidence free assertions that the sinister hand of Israel is behind every conflict in the Middle-East” is a classic example of a poster who’s way out of his depth…as if we needed any more evidence in that regard.
    Regrettably, we can now most likely expect a rambling 500 plus word attempt to show why a complete lack of understanding of the basics of post 1973 Middle East politics, is in fact a good thing….yes yes old chap..of course it is..there’s a good fellow……zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

  18. Mike R

    To the above contributor,

    For once I wasn’t referring to yourself, but the way in which you reacted seems to have a struck a raw nerve. Don’t take it so personally. My reference in the comments section was earlier to an aside by another commentator who stated that “we will be following the US into every foreign adventure, and undeclared war, they undertake at the behest of Israel” without providing any evidence.

    But you have, I recall, have some form in the matter, for instance – “ No-one’s mentioned Israel’s key role in promoting this attack” http://www.crikey.com.au/2013/08/29/ambiguity-over-syrian-chemical-attack-may-lead-to-misguided-intervention/ and “o f course Bibi & his fascist cronies are salivating at the prospect of a regional war across the Middle East. http://www.crikey.com.au/2013/08/27/rudds-foreign-priorities-syria-naval-base-and-creative-middle-power-status/ without providing a scintilla of supporting evidence for either statements.

    However I will give you the benefit of the doubt, maybe this was a comment from another person who coincidentally has the same name as yourself. Maybe you should choose a a particularly unique nom-de guerre such as Zaphod Beeblebrox so these misunderstandings do not persist.


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