Australia – the international darling… but for how long?

I think the applause that greeted the new Australian Prime Minister during the opening of the high level segment at Bali surprised even him – it went on and on, until even the other dignitaries on the stage started to shift a little awkwardly.  And what a dream welcome to the international stage for the 10 day old Labour government: Prime Minister Rudd at the head UN table, giving an address to a packed opening ceremony, immediately after UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and Indonesian President Yudhoyono.  His address was littered with the usual platitudes and calls for action that the well-conditioned audience was able to see coming from the other side of the Timor Sea.   However, those words also planted a seed that I fear indicates that Australia’s new “darling” status may (unfortunately) be short-lived.

When questioned on the Kyoto Protocol during the recent election campaign, Prime Minister Rudd emphasised that his government would indeed ratify Kyoto.  However, when pushed on the next commitment period, the official position of the Labour Party was that it would sign on only if the developing nations adopted strong and binding targets.  The PM used today’s address to re-emphasize this.  In strong contrast to the Secretary General, the phrase “common but differentiated responsibilities” was actively avoided.  Instead, Prime Minister Rudd spoke of “parallel” commitments between developing and developed countries, and the need for all countries to take stringent action without distinctions between North and South.  Not once was equity mentioned, nor the duty of developed countries to accept a greater share of the burden.  This fills me with fear that this may be the election promise to which the fledgling Australian Government has decided to stick.  If so, there will be very little difference in the medium term between the position of the Rudd Government and that of the Howard Government, and Australia will again become a thorn in the side of any real progress towards an equitable and effective post-Kyoto regime.   It will be back to the international sin bin for us.

Stephanie Niall