Perspectives on Australian Foreign Policy-1997

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Trood, Russell
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Towards the end of 1996, an editorial in the Australian newspaper commented: 'Australia needs the Federal Government to determine a clear set of priorities in foreign, defence and trade policy' (Australian 17 October 1996; see also Weekend Australian 14-15 December 1996). To date, the paper argued, the government had not done so. Within the context of a very ordinary first nine months of managing Australia's foreign relations, the Howard government was perhaps fortunate that this 1996 critique was not more trenchant. For although the newly elected government had some early foreign policy successes, the near collapse of Australia's relations with China; the loss of the campaign to secure an Australian seat on the United Nations Security Council; the controversy over Australian aid policy, particularly in relation to the Development Import Finance Facility (DIFF) scheme; and the inadequate management of the Hanson debate, all created a generally poor impression of its foreign policy skills. Twelve months later, the government is showing far more assurance in its conduct of Australia's foreign relations. In 1997, it succeeded in placing its own particular stamp on Australian foreign, defence and trade policy. A series of fresh policy assessments, including the first White Paper on Foreign and Trade policy recast Canberra's foreign priorities, effectively widening the rhetorical gap between the government's policy direction and that of its Labor predecessors. Substantively, however, many of the same interests remain central to Australia's international concerns. The new government's focus on Asia, the importance of trade policy, the decline in resources going to the foreign affairs portfolio and a less declamatory approach to human rights policy, all resonate with the recent past. They also underscore the bipartisanship which has long characterised the conduct of Australian foreign policy. The challenge, as the new government has perceived it, has been to design and conduct a foreign policy with a clearer focus on Australia's immediate national interests and to place them at the forefront of its international agenda.

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Australian Journal of International Affairs

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Policy and Administration

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