EVENT: Time for a rethink – Australia’s foreign policy for the next ten years

EVENT UPDATE: 6pm Thursday 21 February. The prime minister’s white paper, Australia in the Asian Century, sets out a number of well-documented and worthy aspirations, but says very little about how these will be achieved. The road map to achieve these aspirations is still very much a work-in-progress.

Similarly, the 45-page National Security Strategy, suddenly unveiled in early January while most of the nation was on holiday, provided a useful assessment of the medium term risks facing Australia and what we might need to defend. But at a time of substantial cuts to the defence budget, it provided few clues as to the wherewithal to make the strategy work.

Today, the rim of the Indian Ocean is an area of great uncertainty (as described in Robert Kaplan’s excellent book Monsoon), China is jousting with Japan and flexing its muscles in East Asia, and extending its influence in Melanesia; the United States is seeking to rekindle its influence in the region. All of Australia’s trade flows through these waters, so what are our foreign and defence policies? Do we really have foreign and defence policies based on a realistic assessment of the next decade? If one were to look at these reports in cold print, do they actually mean much?

To answer these questions and examine what Australia’s foreign policy should be over the next ten years, the AIIA in Sydney is proud to present two of Australia’s most seasoned and outstanding participants – the diplomat John McCarthy, with an unrivalled knowledge of the chanceries’ of Asia, and Professor Michael Wesley, who holds the chair of national security at the Australian National University after a distinguished period as executive director of the Lowy Institute.

ImageFew diplomats have had as much experience in Asia as John McCarthy. His career in Australia’s foreign service spanned over 40 years, during which time he headed our missions in Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Japan and India. He has also been Australian ambassador to Mexico and the United States, as well as serving a spell in Canberra as deputy secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. He continues to be active in a number of major international projects, and is national president of the Australian Institute of International Affairs.

ImageMichael Wesley is professor of national security at the Australian National University. His career has spanned academia, with previous appointments at the University of New South Wales, Griffith University, the University of Hong Kong, Sun Yat-sen University and the University of Sydney; government, where he worked as assistant director general for transnational issues at the Office of National Assessments; and think tanks, in which he was executive director of the Lowy Institute for International Policy and a non-resident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Professor Wesley has also served as the editor in chief of the Australian Journal of International Affairs, a trustee of the Queensland Art Gallery and a board Member of the Australia Television Network. His most recent book, There Goes the Neighborhood: Australia and the Rise of Asia, won the 2011 John Button Prize for the best writing on Australian public policy.

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