BY ANDREW ELDER
ABC - THE DRUM (Extracts)
AUSTRALIAN FOREIGN POLICY is not connected to our political system, and it is utterly unrelated to the way Australians interact with other countries.
We lack the political leadership to better engage with other countries, let alone exploit any opportunities that may come our way. The coming of Bob Carr to Canberra has not resolved the lack of foreign policy leadership, and nor will replacing this government with the opposition.
Australia urgently needs a clear understanding of how we are to engage with the Asia-Pacific.
There has been a lot written about Carr, and before he was appointed to his current role we should have seen more articles examining his performance as NSW premier and fewer about what a great communicator journalists find him to be.
Carr is one for the Big Themes, like US-China. Even second-order foreign policy challenges like Burma can be framed in terms of Tyranny vs Freedom, with of course the iconic figure of Aung San Suu Kyi. Where Big Themes are hard to find in an area of foreign policy, it will be hard to hold Carr's interest.
This was demonstrated early and well with his ham-fisted response to the political upheaval in Papua New Guinea. Political upheaval is frequent, if not normal, in PNG while it is much less so here.
Except for our military campaign there in the early 1940s (and that was targeted against the Japanese than for the people of PNG themselves), Australia's relationship with PNG has tended to be exploitative and patronising.
It isn't part of Australia, so we don't control it; but it has strong strategic importance to Australia so our leaders and policy-makers can't ignore what goes on there.
Carr backed down from his threat to cut off aid, and no doubt he will go there soon covered in ashes and sackcloth to some extent. It would be a mistake to assume Carr will reinvent Australia's relationship with our near neighbours in Melanesia and Polynesia.
The Big Themes simply don't fit there, and nor is there much scope for spin and hype in this foreign policy issue: the "24 hour news cycle" can and does go for weeks and months without even mentioning PNG, the Solomons, Fiji, Samoa or Tuvalu.
Australians have never really had an input into foreign policy, but the way Australians trade and travel and otherwise interact with other countries could not be any more disconnected from the way our officials do so. We lack the political leadership to bridge the gap between Canberra and the rest of the country, a gap that makes room for mischief and misunderstanding to impede our relationship with our world.