The Sydney-based Lowy Institute says the Australian government needs to set up new diplomatic posts in ‘emerging centres of influence and economic opportunity,’ including eastern Indonesia.
The Institute says Australia is badly under-represented by its diplomatic service, and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) needs a ‘substantial and sustained boost to its funding base.’
‘Unexpected developments in Indonesia, our sprawling northern neighbour, can have real ramifications for Australians – as demonstrated by the interruption to the $300 million live cattle trade. Political instability in Papua New Guinea, the continuing stand-off with the military dictatorship in Fiji and a growing Chinese economic and aid presence have underlined the continuing volatility of our immediate neighbourhood,’ the Lowy Institute writes, saying this underlines the need for better diplomatic representation.
The Lowy Institute claims Australia has the smallest diplomatic network of all G20 nations. ‘We need to build stronger and more broadly-based relationships with the so-called BRIC nations and the non-BRIC emerging powers – countries such as Turkey, South Korea, Mexico, Indonesia and the United Arab Emirates.’
It also calls for more sustained language-training efforts, saying only around 10 per cent of DFAT’s staff9 have a working-level proficiency in an Asian language.
The Institute has also criticized DFAT’s poor use of new technology.
‘Social media and electronic communication have evolved so rapidly that foreign ministries face challenges in staying abreast of advances. The speed with which news can now spread (there are around five billion mobile phones worldwide, one billion of them web-enabled to some degree, and two billion internet users, with numbers growing rapidly),90 means DFAT can no longer afford to continue with traditional messaging only. It must position itself both to respond rapidly to misinformation or crisis situations and to engage effectively with foreign publics and promote Australia’s foreign policy objectives.’