Rawdon Dalrymple is a former Australian ambassador to Indonesia, the US and Japan.

Prime Minister Gillard's address to the UN General Assembly this morning was a well-crafted pitch to the annual 'leaders week' talk-fest in New York. It attributed high idealism to what is often a rather dismal scuffling about old and new intractable issues. But it is obligatory on such occasions not only to exaggerate the effectiveness of the UN but to cloak national ambitions in the rhetoric of disinterested service to humanity.

The speech Julia Gillard delivered did that well. She made a good case for Australia's present and future role as a contributor to the fulfillment of what she called 'humanity's highest ideals'. And she made clear this was not just rhetoric but a matter of achieving 'practical progress' in areas where Australia's role has been recognised and institutionalised.

In education, in work to promote gender equality, in combating malaria and in other areas, Australia's work in the UN context does stand up well. In peacekeeping, the Timor-Leste effort is probably a plus for us. Whether our role as the largest non-NATO contributor to the International Security Force in Afghanistan will tell in our favour is, in present circumstances, at best line-ball.

But given the unstated purpose of the address, to bolster our campaign for a non-permanent seat on the Security Council, the record and the intentions the PM outlined would vastly outclass anything that could be said in favour of our unmentioned rival, Luxembourg.

That comparison is almost risible, except that Luxembourg is the candidate of the EU. Shaky though it now looks, the EU still wields a lot of influence and will no doubt exert it to try to get the seat for its candidate.

Australia's handicap is that it doesn't belong to any group which has put us forward as their candidate. Despite that, we have got up before, though our last attempt was a disaster. This time we have a steady professional in New York who would have given Gillard and Carr as good an estimate of support as possible. But it would be very heavily qualified.

If a prime ministerial address could improve our chances, this one was our best shot.

Photo by Flickr user ShaharEvron.