Photo: Jack Fox

Photo: Jack Fox

Australian foreign policy in the spotlight

19 August 2015

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Senior Lecturer

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A recent ANU conference has sought to evaluate the state of Australia’s international relations in the face of a diverse set of challenges.

The Australia 360 forum, hosted by the Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs, brought together some of the country’s most experienced foreign policy specialists to discuss areas as diverse as national and regional security, the environment, international development and law, economics and trade, and humanitarian and defence issues.

The conference, which was opened by the ANU Chancellor, Professor Gareth Evans, included participants from across the College of Asia and the Pacific, as well as special guests such as Laura Tingle, political editor for the Australian Financial Review, and Brendan Berne, First Assistant Secretary of the Trade, Investment and Diplomacy Division of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

National security, and the federal government’s reliance on it as a political issue, was a major theme. Professor Rory Medcalf from the National Security College noted that the substance and assessments underlying national security issues have been sound, but the way they have been sold to the electorate has been highly political. Ms Tingle said the government’s use of national security as a fallback position had led to growing cynicism in the electorate.

Professor Warwick McKibbin, from the Crawford School of Public Policy, mentioned that Australia’s failure to use the proceeds of the mining boom to reform financial structures made the country more vulnerable to global economic change. The economic cost of responding to climate change was another major theme of discussion.

Panellists agreed that Australia had great potential as a middle power and has had some recent foreign policy successes, including hosting the 2014 G20 summit, leading the search for missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 and concluding a number of free trade agreements, but that in some areas this potential has yet to be realised. All agreed that the international political and economic systems are undergoing significant, rapid change, and that Australia will need to be in a position to respond proactively, rather than simply reacting to events.

Conference attendees included academics, students, public servants and members of parliament. The Bell School intends to make Australia 360 an annual event, in the same vein as its regional update forums.

See videos from the Australia 360 conference here (Hugh White and Michael Wesley) and here (Andrew Carr and Greg Fealy).

To find out how a postgraduate degree in international relations can further your career, come to ANU Open Day, Sat 29 August.

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