Australian Outlook

In this section

Diversifying Diplomacy: Labor’s First Year     

26 May 2023
By Renee Cremer
On Tuesday 7th March 2023, Senator the Hon. Penny Wong spoke at the Coral Bell School at ANU. In attendance was the newly announced Ambassador for First Nations People, Justin Mohamed. Source: DFAT/

The Labor government has done well to move the country forward and beyond a moribund diplomatic style. Diversity will help freshen perspectives and add opportunities.

As the Albanese government marks one year in office, Australia’s approach to foreign policy is getting a makeover. Foreign Minister Penny Wong and Anthony Albanese’s Labor government have demonstrated an assertive approach to active diplomacy, especially in the Indo-Pacific. This new style could very well prepare the runway for future generations of Australians to thrive in an increasingly complex geostrategic environment.

The Albanese government is changing the nature of Australia’s approach to foreign policy. Diversifying Australia’s diplomatic engagement has improved souring international relationships in the Pacific and beyond. In doing so, Labor is setting the scene for what young Australians can hope will be a more balanced approach to diplomacy. Further, how the Labor government leverages Australia’s appetite for a more inclusive and representative discourse could play a key role in supporting a generation faced with the impacts of a global power shift.

Since taking office in May 2022, Labor has established a First Nations foreign policy and appointed the first ambassador for First Nations people. There is a strong commitment to addressing priorities in the Pacific and Southeast Asia, presenting a bolder presence in the Indo-Pacific. Labor’s actions are tantamount to positioning Australia as a regional actor to be taken sincerely while the balance of power remains uncertain.

Foreign Minister Wong is traversing the Indo-Pacific region with an intellectual magnetism that generations to come may aspire to. The Labor government’s style, compared with the last decade of Australia’s lukewarm pursuit of international relations, signals a refreshing cadence in Australia’s approach to foreign policy.

On the surface, there is little by way of a public policy shift. Yet, progress has been made with the establishment of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s (DFAT) First Nations Taskforce, who are demonstrating their commitment to a future Australian foreign policy inclusive of a more diverse approach.

This is evident in DFAT’s support of the Young Australians in International Affairs (YAIA) Future Leaders Series. The focus of this series is First Nations engagement as it relates to Australia’s foreign policy, culminating in several policy presentations by a group of youth delegates to DFAT officials. Recognising the role of young people to offer fresh insights on foreign policy will contribute to strengthening Australia’s ability to navigate a future based on maintaining peace in our region. Through initiatives like those facilitated by YAIA, young people are joining the conversation, developing their skills, and exploring practicable policy ideas which constitute key elements of Australia’s foreign policy.

Labor’s ability to meaningfully implement a First Nations foreign policy beyond rhetoric demonstrates to the Australian public and the world that there are enormous contributions to be made by First Nations peoples. Indigenous ways of knowing, being, and doing have led to the cultivation of international relationships for over 60,000 years. When giving a speech about such contributions to diplomacy, Frances Adamson highlighted that Indigenous people were “the very first diplomats: hundreds of pre-colonial nations, interconnected but unique, negotiating and trading with each other and the world beyond.” By continuing to encourage the implementation of the Indigenous Diplomacy Agenda, Labor gives greater meaning to reconciliation domestically and the diplomatic potential that can be realised in the Indo-Pacific.

There are still several issues to be addressed that could add to the credibility of Australia’s foreign policy approach. Key issues surrounding climate change, asylum seeker and migration policy, and economic security present opportunities for the Labor government to build on the country’s brand as a responsible international actor. Unfortunately, Labor’s May budget failed to address their commitment to the Refugee and Humanitarian Program. What has become clear over the past few years is that increasing global conflict and the impacts of climate change require greater preparedness for forced migration. Building public awareness of the benefits and opportunities associated with  having more humane migration and more urgent climate change policies, could have significant impacts for Australia’s place in the world.

The Albanese government’s first year in office has been wheels up from the word go. They are diversifying Australia’s approach to foreign policy and improving diplomatic engagement, particularly in the Indo-Pacific. With 70 percent of the world’s Indigenous people living in Asia, the formulation of the First Nations foreign policy presents an opportunity for the Labor government to lead with strength in the region. That being said, there is still a great deal of work to be done in designing and implementing the First Nations foreign policy and mitigating geostrategic tensions in Australia’s region. This includes  incorporating the perspectives of young people.

Now is the time to ensure future generations are poised to thrive in a prosperous and peaceful international community throughout the Indo-Pacific century.

Renee Cremer is a proud Yuin woman and mother, originally from the Sunshine Coast. Renee is an early career public servant living on Ngunnawal and Ngambri country. Passionate about youth leadership and paving the way for future generations, Renee looks forward to engaging more First Nations youth in international affairs as Chief Executive Officer of Young Australians in International Affairs. 

This article is published under a Creative Commons License and may be republished with attribution.