Downer urges Australians to think big

By Jane Garcia in Sydney

Just as the Socceroos proved they could join the ‘big league’ in playing in the World Cup, Australia should back itself when it comes to foreign policy and advancing its interests at a global level, according to Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alexander Downer.

Speaking at The Centre for Independent Studies’ Policymakers Forum in Sydney in July, he said Australia had a choice when it came to foreign policy: to think big, or “shrink into ourselves because thinking big is too hard or because we somehow don’t believe we belong on the global stage”.

“Rather than thinking small, I prefer an Australia that thinks and acts big in foreign policy, just as we never doubt the contribution we can make globally in sport, the arts or business,” Mr Downer said.

“I think we can play a regional role and a global role – the two are clearly inter-connected.

The Foreign Minister nominated four global challenges he believed Australia had an expansive agenda to pursue: climate change, democracy and freedom, regional issues, and trade. The nation had never been more engaged and never made more progress on its interests in the region, including its inclusion at the East Asia Summit process, he said.

“Next year we will host APEC. [Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation] and it will be a major opportunity to add fresh impetus to what we still believe is the most important regional grouping for Australia ,” Mr Downer said.

“We have made great strides in functional cooperation in Asia on vital security issues. 
“Our border agencies are increasingly networked with their regional counterparts.  Intelligence information is being shared like never before, making terrorists ever more vulnerable to arrest. 

“The Proliferation Security Initiative is now globally recognised as helping to prevent the trafficking of weapons of mass destruction and missile technology.”

Australia was seen as a neutral party with the capability to respond to regional natural disasters, health or security threats, and even dramatic breakdowns in law and order, such as calls to help in Bougainville, East Timor and the Solomon Islands , according to the Foreign Minister.

“We have led responses to the Boxing Day Tsunami, cyclones in the Pacific and other natural disasters,” he said.
“Our post-conflict activities in Bougainville, East Timor and Solomon Islands have a long way to run.  You see, post onflict societies are always pre conflict societies.  Conflict has an echo that takes a generation to dissipate. 

“Nation-building is not easy and the recipe for success is complicated.  Security is an essential ingredient, rebuilding functioning institutions is critical, but so is good leadership, which cannot be manufactured.  You cannot create stable societies in a matter of a few years … these are 20 and 30 year projects we’re pursuing.”

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