According to opinion polls, Julie Bishop’s standing has climbed. In Harper’s Bazaar she has been described as the Woman of the Year. It is suggested that she could be a leadership contender…
But how much substance and how much achievement has there really been. How has Australia’s foreign policy interests been advanced?
Before looking at the performance, it is worth recalling that no Australian Foreign Minister could be said to have failed in recent decades, from Gareth Evans to Bill Hayden to Alexander Downer, Stephen Smith, Kevin Rudd and Bob Car. One advantage that Foreign Ministers have is that there is really no domestic constituency that they are likely to upset. At the same time there are numerous media and photo opportunities to do newsworthy things like running around Beijing. The media which is so often about politics and spin rarely looks beyond style and presentation.
In passing I think there were more real achievements by Gareth Evans than any others.eg peace in Cambodia.
In terms of the first twelve months of the Abbott Government and Julia Bishop’s performance in foreign policy, what can we deduce?
The largest cut in the May 2014 Budget was in Julia Bishop’s portfolio. Overseas development aid was cut by 21%. What a failure!
Julia Bishop unnecessarily involved us in the dispute between Japan and China over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands. She said “China doesn’t respect weakness” and that “Australia will stand up to China to defend peace, liberal values and the rule of law”. Perhaps that was just an inexperienced Foreign Minister but hopefully she now reflects that we should stay out of that dispute.
Julie Bishop has announced a “signature initiative” to promote understanding of our region by supporting Australian undergraduates with internships in the region. She has called it a Colombo Plan in reverse. But there is a problem with this. What she has not explained is how those undergraduates will get jobs in Australia using their regional education and experience. We had a boom in Asian language training in Australia a couple of decades ago, but it fizzled because Australian companies would not employ Australians with Asian skills. As a result these young and Asian skilled Australians drifted away to take jobs in places like Hong Kong. Has Julie Bishop examined this serious problem of Australian companies and their unwillingness to employ people with Asian skills?
There is no indication that Julie Bishop discouraged Scott Morrison in proceeding with his grotesque proposal to send refugees to Cambodia.
The Rudd and Gillard Governments opposed the policy of the Israeli Government in expanding settlements in occupied Palestine. Last year Julie Bishop reversed that policy at the UN. 158 countries supported the UN’s call for an end to these settlements. Australia joined with eight other countries in abstaining from a vote.
Julie Bishop made a name for herself in the recovery of bodies from MH17. She showed us her toughness although she didn’t quite use the rhetoric of “shirt-fronting”. But the real achievement in the recovery of bodies from MH17 was made by the Prime Minister of Malaysia whose government, without fanfare, negotiated directly with the Russian backed rebels in the Ukraine. As a result the rebels agreed to a train with refrigerated carriages carrying most of the bodies out of the crash area. The Malaysian Government also secured access to the crash site and the recovery of the black boxes. In the UN and elsewhere Julie Bishop, in association with the Dutch Foreign Minister, continued to attack the Russians but refused to deal with the rebels. It was good domestic politics in Australia but not helpful in assisting recovery from the crash site. The Malaysians really delivered when it mattered. Julie Bishop,despite the rhetoric,was really only a bit player.
Julie Bishop and Tony Abbott were completely blind sided by the agreement on carbon pollution between the US and Chinese Presidents.. On this most critical issue,involving the US, our most important ally and friend,we knew nothing. On such a matter of great substance Julie Bishop was asleep at the wheel. It tells us a lot!
It is important to distinguish between style and substance.