RICHARD WOOLCOTT. Julie Bishop – supporting bad policies.

The Foreign Minister’s outrage was highly selective … her speech was indeed strong on talk, but weak on effective action.

JULIE BISHOP’S SPEECH ON 12 DECEMBER ON AUSTRALIA SEEKING ELECTION TO THE UNITED NATIONS HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL

I attended Foreign Minister Julie Bishop’s speech on 12 December on Australia seeking election to the United Nations Human Rights Council for 2018-2020.  She does speak clearly and firmly, even when she is supporting what are essentially bad policies.  This is an asset to her in so far as it distracts a number of Australians from considering in depth the policies themselves.

The Foreign Minister’s outrage was highly selective.  While she condemned reports of “slaughter” in Aleppo by the Bashar al-Assad forces she made no reference to the United States bombing of Fallujah and Saudi Arabia’s extensive bombing of civilians in Yemen.

The Foreign Minister’s speech was indeed strong on talk but weak on effective action.  When questioned on why we had continued to support the removal of Assad she maintained that Australia had “some time ago” changed its position.  At best this assertion is dubious.

When asked after the speech about the possible appointment of Rex Tillerson as the next United States Secretary of State, she said that this required confirmation by the U.S. Senate.  I doubt whether she would oppose it because of Tillerson’s investments in Western Australia and in Papua New Guinea.

When asked about a possible reshuffle of the Australian Cabinet the Foreign Minister argued that this was not desirable adding “everybody is doing a great job.”  This, of course, is not a view widely held in the Australian Parliament, especially in respect of the Attorney-General, Senator Brandis.

The Foreign Minister put considerable emphasis on protesting about events in Myanmar, Vietnam, Laos, The Philippines, Cambodia and Indonesia without making any reference to the fact that none of these countries had responded to the representations she had made.  This reduces them to essentially rhetorical protests.

The recently elected Portuguese Secretary-General of the U.N, Guterres, would, in my view, be unlikely to accept a number of Australian attitudes related to asylum seekers.

Given the above, I doubt whether we will be elected to the U.N. Human Rights Council.  France and Spain are also candidates.  Her argument that they are neighbours is not particularly strong as, although they are neighbours, they speak different languages and would probably be seen in the United Nations as candidates more appropriate for election, especially given our continuing attitudes on boat arrivals and the treatment of asylum seekers on Nauru and Manus Island.  Also in the Middle East we are in alliance with Saudi Arabia which executes men and women in public.

Richard Woolcott, Permanent Representative at the United Nations (1982-1988), Secretary, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (1988-1992)

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