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)