Lowy Institute

One area of policy difference between Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard immediately raised after last night's leadership change is asylum seekers. After all, it's one of the biggest challenges in terms of policy and votes facing the Government, and Rudd famously declared he did not want to see the party 'lurch to the right' on the issue on the night he was deposed three years ago.

However, a left/right analysis of Rudd and Gillard's approach to the issue misleads far more than it reveals. Instead, there is a regional/domestic divide in their approach, and curiously enough, it's Gillard who is the regionalist.

Within two weeks of coming to power, Gillard declared in a speech to the Lowy Institute that she was working towards 'a regional approach to the processing of asylum seekers, with the involvement of the UNHCR, which effectively eliminates the on shore processing of unauthorised arrivals'. She also announced, pre-emptively it turned out, an agreement with East Timor to host a processing centre.

While that deal soon collapsed, Gillard's instincts continued to be regional. She and Chris Bowen put far more effort in to the Bali Process than Rudd had, and saw the (still weak) institution agree to a 'Regional Cooperation Framework', as suggested by the UNHCR. This included, for the first time, the discussion of a regional processing centre hosted in a Southeast Asian country. Gillard pursued a deal with Malaysia which was rightly criticised as too small and without sufficient protection of minority rights, but which could have been a framework for something sustainable in the longer term.

Of course, Gillard's plans were stymied by the High Court, the Coalition and the Greens, leading her to use domestic policy approaches and restore the Pacific Solution (the Manus Island and Nauru facilities are not 'regional' in any sense of significant cooperation; they are merely Australian-run detention and processing centres in locations outside Australia's legal framework).

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Rudd, by comparison, tried to use domestic measures to address the issue. He argued for restoring morality to Australia's approach, and ended some of the Howard Government's restrictions and policies. However he slowly began rolling back some of his changes as the boats began arriving. Rudd even used a flat-out ban on processing arrivals from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan in a desperate bid to stop the flow. Like almost all other domestic measures we've tried, none of this really worked. Yet for all his talk about engagement and Asia as a 'third pillar' of his government's foreign policy, Kevin Rudd did not want to involve the region in solving Australia's asylum seeker problem. If the comments by Bob Carr last night are any indication, the second Rudd Government will also focus on domestic approaches.

To borrow a line from the former PM, this regional/domestic divide doesn't explain everything about Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard's different approaches, but it does explain much of it.

There are two takeaways from this. One is that the story of how the Australian government has tried to solve the asylum seeker issue is far more complex and far more interesting than a simple left/right dichotomy. Gillard, like Howard before her, sought a regional approach. Rudd, like Keating before him, sought a domestic approach.

Which raises the second and perhaps unanswerable question: is there a link between the idealism which Rudd and Keating attach to concept of engagement and their unwillingness to pursue a regional approach on morally difficult issues like asylum seekers? In other words, is the idealistic conception of 'engagement' restricting actual engagement with Asia on issues that matter to Australians?

Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Enny Nuraheni.

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Being a blogger often feels like going fishing. Every morning you cast your line out looking for something to catch and discuss. Some days there's lots of things about, sometimes nothing. Some days you try and catch a big fish to impress others (and usually miss), some days you put in a lot of time and struggle, only to reel in a minnow.

It's a great and rewarding pursuit, but I've come to realise that my knowledge of the bank and currents isn't yet good enough to compete with the pros. So, I'm hanging up my rod for the time being to go researching. I've accepted an Associate Lecturer position at ANU's Strategic and Defence Studies Centre. I'm hoping to spend a few years really getting to know my field, publishing and getting back into teaching.

I'd like to thank all the people at Lowy for their support, but especially Sam who has been an excellent boss and taught me a lot about this craft.

Cheers!

Photo by Flickr user faungg.

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British officials criticised his [Burton's] "extraordinary" views, such as that India and Indonesia were more important to Australia than Canada and South Africa.

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In the links last week I highlighted a survey of US international relations (IR) scholars. One question particularly leapt out: 'Which of the following best describes your approach to the study of IR?'.

While a colleague has noted that you'll never hear the word 'constructivism' inside the walls of DFAT*, it is the most popular IR discipline. In some ways this isn't too surprising, as constructivism is a new field with high research energy. But given the traditional dominance of realism, and the return to great power studies that has accompanied China's rise this century, I would have expected many more realists.

It may be that some realists are hiding their ideological colours under the 'I don't have a paradigm' option, but given this is a group of experts being asked about their identification, we must assume they had some reasons for not selecting realism. It is also likely that many realists have shifted over into security studies rather than IR, narrowing the pool of IR realists, without affecting the number of realists who study international affairs. Still, it's noticeable that while realists dominate the big names in public, they are not doing as well inside the disciplinary walls.

* In Gyngell & Wesley's 2007 book 'Making Australian Foreign Policy', they found 68% of DFAT staff identify as realists.

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One of the signature foreign policy moves of the Rudd Government was carried out in Canberra. Rudd centralised foreign and defence policy creation, not just into his department (PM&C), but in his office, including creating a new National Security Adviser as the PM's point man. Yet it seems his successor, Julia Gillard, isn't so taken with the changes:

The position of National Security Adviser has been vacant since early August, when the former SAS commander Duncan Lewis stepped down to become Secretary of Defence. And it is only one of six positions within the departments of Defence and Prime Minister and Cabinet that are being filled by acting staff.

The other five are: the two newly created associate secretary positions within Defence; the chief executive of the Defence Materiel Organisation; the deputy NSA; and DPMC's National Security Chief Information Officer.Mr Lewis' deputy, Margot McCarthy, has been the acting National Security Adviser since he left. Some believe that Ms Gillard and the Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Ian Watt, believe the role should not have the power it had during Kevin Rudd's prime ministership.

While sometimes there are inevitable delays, Gillard has run a more efficient ship-of-state than her predecessor, leading me to believe that it is a disinclination for a centralised security office in PM&C that better explains the delays. This not only fits with Gillard's lower level of passion for foreign policy than Rudd, but hopefully also a recognition that the system Rudd established didn't work.

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For all his many strengths as a policy thinker (I still defend the APc concept), Rudd ended up a lone ranger, with poor implementation, organisation and paper flow leading to delays and missed opportunities. All PMs might wish to focus on foreign policy, but there are always going to be too many distractions in the domestic sphere for foreign and defence policy development to be the PM's role.

While it would be a shame to lose the NSA role, if Gillard really is moving policy creation and management back to DFAT and Defence (leaving PM&C to coordinate), it will be to the benefit of Australia's foreign policy. PMs are always tempted to centralise, so it's to Gillard's credit that she's reversing the trend in this area.

Photo courtesy of PM&C.

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Since he's too modest to post it himself, here is Sam Roggeveen on Bloggingheads.tv

 

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To help busy readers, I've pulled together a list of Lowy's best North Korea-related publications.

Depending how the crisis evolved, and how key powers responded, a Korean strategic shock could contribute greatly to turning any of this paper's four scenarios – US or Chinese primacy, balance or concert – into a reality. Korea and what happens there could well prove to be the strategic pivot of Asia in the twenty-first century.

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