JOHN MENADUE. Julie Bishop – Foreign Minister or Senior Consular Officer

Foreign ministers can hide their failures more easily than other ministers because ‘foreign affairs’ has no serious domestic constituency. Appearances on the public and world stage can also hide a lack of substance – for a while.

But the failures of Julie Bishop are now clear.

Most of her media appearances are now 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 our foreign minister doesn’t want to miss these media opportunities. It is easier than explaining 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 miss managing 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 power by China in a constructive and measured way. But unfortunately Julie Bishop has involved us unnecessarily in the belligerent attitude that Japan shows towards China. The ultra nationalist prime minister of Japan, Shintaro Abe, has his own domestic agenda to antagonize both China and the Republic of Korea. He has drawn both Australia and the US into his dangerous posturing.

Our foreign minister has 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.! Automatically siding with the US on major issues is not necessarily in our best interest. But our foreign minister doesn’t seem to understand what is at stake.

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 has not happened .We are 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 by a further $224 million in the 2016-17 budget. 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 foreign minister has decided that Australia will punish some of the world’s poorest people.  After all they don’t vote in Australian elections.! She won’t talk about this on TV, but prefers to tell us about the latest consular case.

The possible catastrophic use of nuclear weapons does not apparently interest our foreign minister. 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 our foreign minister has sided with the US against this proposal.

Our foreign minister has promoted what she calls a Colombo Plan in reverse – funding young Australians to study in Asia. But she does not seem to have any understanding of what has happened 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 the foreign minister appreciates why schemes 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 has said nothing and the media continues to give her a free ride on this and the litany of mistakes she has made.

Julie Bishop has been a deputy to successive leaders – Turnbull, Abbott and now Turnbull again. Like the Vicar of Bray s he demonstrates great political flexibility.

Nemo Dat Quod Non Habet. (No-one can give what he or she doesn’t have)






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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3 Responses to JOHN MENADUE. Julie Bishop – Foreign Minister or Senior Consular Officer

  1. Three governments are currently consulting their constituents. Two are offering them a significant choice about future foreign policy: one is not. The UK asks citizens to decide if Britain should separate from the European Union and, presumably, tie itself more tightly to the US. The US asks delegates to decide between a President Donald Trump who would expel Hispanics, bar entry to Muslims, and flatten parts of the Middle East, and a President Hillary Clinton who would take a tougher line against states which challenge the US. Australian leaders ask voters almost nothing about what foreign policy initiatives would differentiate Prime Minister Turnbull from a Prime Minister Shorten.

  2. Avatar Gavan Hogue says:

    The use of consular work as part of domestic politicking is not restricted to Julie Bishop although she has certainly been a frequent practioner. Work that could and should be done by a Vice-Consul – and would have been in the past – is now being done by ambassadors and ministers which is a waste of money and resources. It is part of the reaction to the 24 hour news cycle and the domestication of foreign policy. So much foreign policy is determined by how political staffers think it will play in marginal electorates and therefore seek the bottom of the barrel. The media is no help as its focus on Orlando shows.
    You are right to criticise her and the Government’s poor performance and lack of foreign policy vision. Perhaps our devotion to Gallipoli represents some kind of Freudian love of failure but we do seem to have a knack for backing the wrong horse. Our foreign policy looks to a fast disappearing past instead of a rapidly unfolding future. We have followed the US into one disaster after another and show no sign of learning. We need a policy which recognises the truth of the old saw that countries don’t have friends, only intrerests. Cavan Hogue

  3. Avatar Michael Keating says:

    I couldn’t agree more with this assessment of our Foreign Minister, but if anything it is understated. Julie Bishop’s worst fault is that she sits back waiting to respond to events as they happen. She never gets on the front foot trying to shape the future. In short there is absolutely no sign of any strategy.
    Australia’s biggest foreign policy demand is to engage with both China and the US. To this end Australia should be at the forefront in building the international infrastructure so that these two powerful countries are encouraged to engage with each other, and we are not forced to choose between them. That is what the initiative taken by the Hawke and Keating Governments to establish APEC was all about, and there are further possibilities of this kind today; Just that Ms. Bishop doesn’t even begin to think about them.

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