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Media Microscope: Bidding Wars

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Allon Lee


Australia's successful UN Security Council campaign garnered much coverage prior to and after the secret ballot on October 18.

Before the vote, a number of commentators pontificated on whether the government's support for Israel at the UN would affect the bid.

Alison Broinowski invoked former Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans' assertion that "the key to our election, is our vote on Palestinian aspirations for membership of UN agencies, leading up to UN membership itself. We opposed under Howard, abstained under Rudd, and last year the Gillard Government took Australia back to opposing Palestine's campaign, in the company of US, Israel, the federated States of Micronesia and Palau."

Actually, this issue never came up under Howard, and under Rudd, no vote was held, though there were reports that the government favoured abstention. The one vote actually held, the 2011 UNESCO vote, saw 107 members vote "yes", 14 vote "no" and 52 abstain. In other words, more than Broinowksi concedes voted no, and 52 countries were too timid to express an opinion.

Broinowski not only argued, incorrectly, that Australia's stand on Palestinian statehood meant that "the $24 million we have spent on the Security Council bid will be wasted." She seemed to imply that our stance meant we didn't deserve election, saying "If Australian foreign policy is so out of step with the global majority, and so responsive to the wishes of the United States (and indeed Israel), why would UN member states want to waste a seat on Australia?," The Interpreter (Sept. 7).

Analyst Graeme Dobell also pivoted a whole article on Australia's recent UN voting track record on Israel-Palestinian issues, particularly our vote against granting the non-existent State of Palestine full UNESCO membership. He warned darkly that a loss would show that "the tide of history will have washed over Canberra's hopes", The Interpreter (Oct. 17).

Paul McGeough suggested that "Australia might have a problem in garnering the votes of Arab, African and Muslim countries because of its customary support for Israel and the US," Age/Sydney Morning Herald (Oct. 13).

Five days later, McGeough revisited the UN bid, quoted unnamed foreign interlocutors alleging that "The former prime minister John Howard has been blamed for steering Canberra towards slavish support for Washington on the Israel question... Labor merely had taken the country back to what traditionally had been a more moderate stance," Age/ Sydney Morning Herald (Oct. 18).

The Australian editorialised on September 25 that Australia's candidacy for a temporary seat on the UN Security Council "has far more to offer...than Luxembourg or Finland" but the bid had seen us pursue policies "ill-judging" our "best interests, such as the decision to participate in the recent farcical summit of so-called non-aligned nations in Tehran. The event was a triumph for Iran's ayatollahs, but not for global security."

Three weeks out, Foreign Editor Greg Sheridan declared that the "gig is in the bag" but wondered if the bid was worth it, writing how "the true measure of the distortion of our efforts that this bid has caused is not to be found in the few tens of millions of dollars we have spent directly on the bid itself - it is to be found in the hundreds of millions of dollars of aid money we have wasted in countries where we cannot supervise its spending properly... It is also to be found in the rather pathetic change of voting we have engaged in to try to disguise our pro-Israel position, in order to suck up to Arab and African nations," Australian (Sept. 27).

Daniel Flitton wrote that "the cost of the campaign, at $24 million, seems a bargain compared with the expensive toys demanded by the Defence Department." Flitton was unconvinced by "the other favourite complaint against the campaign" that "Australia must abandon support for Israel in a grubby attempt to win favour with Arab nations... In reality, any sniff that Canberra is telling countries what they would like to hear is likely to cost votes," Age (Sept. 25).

Post-facto, no serious qualitative analysis appeared as to why Australia's support for Israel did not cruel our bid as so many predicted.

Tony Walker simply noted that "contrary to alarms raised by some, Australia's vote in UNESCO against elevating Palestine to quasi statehood did not undo its bid," Australian Financial Review's (Oct. 20).

Sheridan attributed the success of the bid to the "hundreds of million, perhaps over time billions, of dollars...that the bid necessitates", which included "aid to Palestinian groups, a number with extremely dubious associations, in a blatant political pander," Australian (Oct. 20).

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