Diplomatic Capabilities Vital to Australia’s Interests

The Business Council of Australia today supported recommendations to reshape and invest in Australia’s international diplomatic services.

Chairman of the BCA’s Global Engagement Task Force and Partner and Chief Executive Officer Corrs Chambers Westgarth, John Denton, said the report Australia’s Diplomatic Deficit, which was prepared by the Lowy Institute’s Blue Ribbon Panel, addressed issues that were vital to Australia’s future.

“Business leaders agree that current resources and priorities for international diplomacy, especially those relating to the operation of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), do not meet Australia’s needs,” Mr Denton said.

“We also endorse the assessment that our security interests and wider relationships are more complex and require new approaches and greater investment.

“It is essential that government, business and civil society work in partnership to make certain our diplomatic services are aligned with Australia’s economic, security and wider objectives.

“In the light of these assessments, we support the panel’s key recommendation to increase the number of professional diplomats working in existing DFAT offices overseas. We also agree with the recommendation to open up new posts in countries and regions where Australia has new and emerging interests.

“In addition, the recommendations to increase resources should be linked to a new approach to working with key stakeholders, including business, aimed at identifying and achieving key outcomes.

“This is especially the case when it comes to building economic relationships in new and emerging global markets where Australian industry is either engaged, or seeking to take up new opportunities,” he said.

Mr Denton said over the last decade major new opportunities for Australian business had emerged in Asia, Africa and South America, in addition to longstanding interests in North America and Europe.

“We are also facing a complex array of challenges. These include the range of issues that need to be addressed when managing the risks to people located overseas, and to investments or potential investments in new markets,” he said.

“I welcome the emphasis that the panel has given to combining greater resourcing with an emphasis on the development of skills and capabilities, improved integration both across government and with external stakeholders, and a renewed focus on results.

“Last year the BCA proposed that a much higher priority should be given to the effectiveness of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in meeting the objectives of the Australian Government and those of key stakeholders such as Australian business.

“While the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has been performing exceptionally well, its resources are overstretched, and for more than a decade the financial efficiency of the department appears to have been a higher priority than its effectiveness.

“The impact of the global financial crisis means it is now even more important for Australia to contribute to maintaining and further opening up markets to international commerce.

“In doing so, we must make certain that Australian industry has the support it needs when dealing with foreign governments and their agencies.

“The BCA will be urging the Australian Government to address the issues raised in Australia’s Diplomatic Deficit and in submissions that the BCA has made in recent times. Business regards the need to substantially improve our diplomatic capabilities as being critical to both our future security and economic prosperity” he said.