Australia trading for African support

March 9, 2009 12:00 am

, SYDNEY, March 9 – Australia’s opposition accused the government on Monday of being prepared to trade its principles for African support of its bid for a seat on the UN Security Council.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who has proclaimed a more activist "middle power" role in world affairs, is sending the country’s governor-general on a nine-nation African tour next week.

The government says the trip by Quentin Bryce — the representative of Australia’s head of state, Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II — is aimed at improving relations with the continent.

But the conservative opposition charges that she will also lobby the African governments to back Australia’s drive for a two-year seat on the Security Council in 2013-2014, thereby compromising her position.

"We are concerned that the office of governor-general will be caught up in what will become a highly contentious international issue," said shadow foreign minister Julie Bishop.

"The strategy should not be to win a seat at any cost, either financially or by compromising our principles, and we should not get into the business of trading our principles to win support," she told public radio.

Bishop cited as an example Australia’s planned attendance at a controversial UN conference on racism in Geneva next month despite the withdrawal of the United States, Canada, Israel and Italy.

The inaugural racism conference in September 2001 saw a walk-out by Israeli and US delegates in protest over a bid by Arab nations to adopt a resolution equating Zionism with racism.

"The perception is growing that Mr Rudd will be using our attendance at this conference to appease countries whose vote he’s seeking to get, so we get a seat on the Security Council," Bishop said.

"Now that will compromise our principles, our support for Israel — and I’m concerned the governor-general does not get caught up in that."

Bryce will visit Botswana, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, the Seychelles, Tanzania and Zambia from March 15 to April 3.

The Australian newspaper said that until the government ruled out attending the conference, "the suspicion will linger that they are pandering to the votes of the Arab League and African nations".

In an editorial headlined "A major price to win a minor prize", the paper said membership of the Security Council would "make no difference to Australia’s status as a middle power."

The 10 current non-permanent members of the Council are Austria, Burkina Faso, Costa Rica, Croatia, Japan, Libya, Mexico, Turkey, Uganda and Vietnam.

The five permanent veto-wielding members are Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States.

Given that the temporary seats have limited clout and status, Rudd may be simply sending the message that Australian foreign policy has changed since he won election, said Nick Economou of Monash University.

Rudd’s centre-left Labor party ended more than a decade of conservative government under John Howard, a close ally of US President George W. Bush, when it won power in November 2007.

"Labor has always been more interested in a multilateral approach to foreign policy," Economou told AFP.

"Even though Labor is just as committed to the American alliance as the conservatives, it likes to try and demonstrate that there’s a slightly more independent tinge to foreign policy under Labor."

Rudd said in his first major foreign policy address in March last year that "Australia’s voice has been too quiet for too long across the various councils of the world."


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