JOHN MENADUE. Julie Bishop – Style and substance?

Julie Bishop did leave a positive impression with her interlocutors. She did present well. But the media seemed to mis understand that there should be much more to being foreign minister. Just compare her ‘achievements’ along side Gareth Evans.

Most of her media appearances were  about ‘consular’ problems – Australians involved in airline crashes, terrorism, or other disasters. Normally these matters would be left to officers of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. But  Julie Bishop didn’t want to miss these media opportunities. The media loved it. It was easy  copy. She knew that consular cases were easier to explain than complicated foreign policy issues.

On her watch as foreign minister there have been major problems for which the media has not held her accountable.

The most serious and potentially dangerous mistake has been in mismanaging our alliance with the US and the rising power of China. It is inevitable that China will re-establish itself as a world power – both strategically and economically. As an ally of the US and with important relationships with China, it is important that we contribute to the rise of China in a constructive and measured way. But unfortunately Julie Bishop has involved us unnecessarily in a  belligerent attitude  towards China.  She was very badly advised by her private staff on China.

She warned that ‘China doesn’t respect weakness and Australia will stand up to China to defend peace, liberal values and the rule of law’. That must have really frightened the Chinese! But for what purpose.!  Like the US we abide by the rule of law when it suits us.

Automatically siding with the US on major issues is not necessarily in our best interest. But our foreign minister did not  understand what was at stake. Not surprisingly, Geoff Raby, a former Australian Ambassador said that Julie Bishop had to go if there was to be an improvement in relations with China.

With the declining power of the US and the rising power of China , we should be re doubling our efforts to build strong relations with our close neighbours and particularly Indonesia. But it did not happen under Julie Bishop’s foreign ministership. She was  fixated on our relationship with the US.

Julie Bishop has been responsible for the largest single cut to our Overseas Development Aid in our history. ODA was cut $1 billion in the 2015-16 budget. It has been cut  many times since. Our ODA is now just 0.23% of our GDP. By contrast the Conservative government in the UK has increased it’s foreign aid budget by 25 % in the last four years.

Despite being one of the wealthiest countries in the world, our former  foreign minister decided that Australia would punish some of the world’s poorest people.  After all they don’t vote in Australian elections.! She would not talk about this on TV, but preferred to tell us about the latest consular case. From the leafy suburbs of Cottesloe the poor were a long way away.

The possible catastrophic use of nuclear weapons did not  interest  Julie Bishop Two thirds of the member states of the UN, including Indonesia, Thailand and New Zealand, have called for negotiations of a global treaty banning nuclear weapons. But we sided with the US against this proposal.

Alongside the US  and a few countries in the UN we loyally supported Israel time and time again in its occupation of Palestinian land.

Julie Bishop promoted what she called a Colombo Plan in reverse – funding young Australians to study in Asia. But she did not seem to have any understanding of what had gone before. Several times we have embarked on expanded programs of Asian learning. But each initiative fizzled because in the end few Australian employers were prepared to employ young Australians with Asian skills. There is no evidence that attitudes of Australian employers have changed or that  Julie Bishop appreciated why schemes had failed in the past.

Julie Bishop led the charge against Julia Gillard over the so-called ‘union slush funds’. Accusations of criminal conduct were made against Julia Gillard, but the Royal Commissioner, Deyson Haydon found that there were no grounds for criminal action. Julia Gillard called for her accusers to show decency and apologise but Julia Bishop who led the charge  said nothing . Solidarity with other women had it’s limits.!

She helped defend CSR against a compensation claim by asbestos mining workers who had contracted mesothelioma while working for the company.

Julie Bishop has been a flexible  deputy to four  successive leaders –Nelson, Turnbull, Abbott and then Turnbull again. The Vicar of Bray comes to mind.

Her colleagues seemed to understand her when in the last Liberal Party ballot  for leadership she got 11 votes out of 85 and not one vote from WA members except for her own vote. It says a lot. Her colleagues saw her up close and had serious reservations.

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John Menadue is the publisher of Pearls & Irritations. He has had a distinguished career both in the private sector and in the Public Service.

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