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Australia's Change of Prime Ministers

Then-Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and then-Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard arrive at the 45th National Labor Conference on July 30, 2009 in Sydney, Australia. (Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images)

Then-Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and then-Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard arrive at the 45th National Labor Conference on July 30, 2009 in Sydney, Australia. (Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images)

A positive development has been Smith adding the trade portfolio to his foreign affairs responsibilities. 

The move towards a more multipolar World Trade Organization will not necessarily mean a more productive WTO. The DOHA Round, trade liberalization and the reduction of agriculture subsidies, are far too important to be allowed to drift or fail. Hopefully, Australia can play a useful role in securing a good outcome, as we did during the later stages of the Uruguay Round in the early 1990's.

The main issues in the very substantial agenda the Gillard Government faces are: responding to the challenges and possible conflicts of interest that will arise from the shift in power and influence from the Atlantic to the Asia Pacific region, driven largely by the rise of China and the rapid growth of India; our campaign to secure election to the UN security council; our bilateral relations with the major countries involved in our region, especially the United States, China, Japan, Russia, India and Indonesia and with important groups such as ASEAN and the EU; Afghanistan, North Korea, Iran, Fiji, East Timor, Israel/Palestine; the South Pacific Forum countries; action to combat terrorism; disarmament issues; people smuggling; and climate change amongst others.

In its approach to this extensive agenda I believe that the Gillard Government needs to keep the following principles in mind.

A change of prime minister always creates an opportunity for policies to be reviewed, especially those which are not securing the outcomes we are seeking.  I have always believed continuous review is the basis of effective foreign, security, and trade policy. Such reviews should be based on carefully evaluated information, including intelligence, and a willingness to change course if our objectives are unlikely to be achieved.

Given the legacies of the early treatment of our indigenous population, the old and discredited White Australia policy and events like the 2001 Tampa election (when the plight of foreign asylum seekers became a heated campaign issue), it is essential that Australian governments are seen to oppose firmly any reappearance of ugly undercurrents of latent racism or religious intolerance. 

Governments also need to be careful about believing their own ‘spin' to justify policies which are not working, such as the former Howard Government did on our policy towards Iraq.  Self-delusion is always a threat to effective diplomacy.

In diplomacy, rhetoric, sometimes driven by domestic politics and the enunciation of national aspirations, is easy.  Achieving the desired objectives is much harder.  It has been argued that Rudd promised more than he could deliver.  But some of his objectives involved long-term processes.

The Gillard Government has the opportunity to build on his contacts with leaders and to see those objectives through, especially the G-20 and more effective arrangements for cooperation on political and security issues in the Asia Pacific region.

Richard Woolcott is the Founding Director of the Asia Society AustralAsia Centre and is a former secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. This article was written for the AsiaSociety.org website.