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Queensland urged to develop its own foreign policy

Published 14 Jul 2020
Bethany Latham

Queensland needs to establish its own foreign policy, and we need to do it soon, says Dr Carl Ungerer.
He argued for this action while addressing an AIIA Queensland online seminar on June 16. Dr Ungerer, pictured above, has deep experience and experience in the field of international relations, having worked as a senior adviser to former Minister for Foreign Affairs Bob Carr, as the Director of the National Security Programme at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, and as the Head of the Leadership, Crisis and Conflict Management Programme at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy.
It may surprise some that he is advocating state-led foreign policy, as it goes against the conventional way Australia has handled diplomacy throughout its history, not to mention Victoria’s recent controversial involvement with China’s One Belt One Road initiative.
During his webinar, Dr Ungerer laid out his reasoning behind this proposition, and provided some insight into what Queensland’s foreign policy might look like.
Firstly, he highlighted the changes he has noticed in Australian diplomacy over the years. He argues that there has been a significant decline in federal leadership when it comes to foreign policy, and as such it is no surprise that states, such as Victoria, feel the need to take matters into their own hands.
He cites underfunding as a major factor contributing to our current diplomatic deficit. This has come at a time when the foreign policy challenges facing Australia have only grown, with COVID-19 exacerbating many of these issues.
Dr Ungerer also discussed the future of international relations as he sees it, predicting a grim path for Australia if we continue to be heavily dependent on China as a destination for our exports. He argues that Queensland, in particular, needs to seriously rethink its over-reliance on China. For these reasons, it would be wise for Queensland to consider its own foreign policy objectives as soon as possible.
To those who would be concerned as to the constitutionality of state-based foreign policy, Dr Ungerer emphasises that the Australian Constitution is undisputedly ambiguous on the subject, and certainly leaves room to challenge the notion that foreign policy should be left entirely to the federal government. Though there would, of course, be some limitations to state-based foreign policy, for example: only the national government can sign official treaties.
The next portion of Dr Ungerer’s presentation revolved around his suggestions on what a Queensland foreign policy would look like. Currently, the state’s largest markets are in mining, tourism, and tertiary education, with China being our biggest partner in each of these sectors. He suggests we need to take a two-pronged approach by recognising our other valuable assets and putting more focus on countries whose values and goals more closely align with our own. Japan, India, and Taiwan fall into this category. He also recognises Papua New Guinea, and the Pacific island nations as key areas in Queensland’s potential foreign policy sphere, as nearby, young, and growing countries, with a quickly emerging middle class.
As for what our new focus should be, Dr Ungerer suggests we could become the leaders of environmental conservation in Australia. As a state, our population is comparable to that of Singapore, Denmark or New Zealand, and many Queenslanders work in professions that will be directly affected by climate change, such as farming and tourism. As such, it would be in our best interests to lead the conversation on environmentalism, even if the federal government may not follow suit. It is not unheard of for a state to have its own interests, and work towards those interests independently. We may look to California for inspiration, as a state which follows its own aspirations, sometimes in contrast to its federal government.
Overall, Dr Ungerer does not advise we follow the same path as Victoria and sign on to China’s One Belt One Road initiative. Firstly, because he does not believe the scheme is a good fit for Queensland’s interests, but also because he wishes to see us expand our horizons and build relationships with other nations. He proposes that we should forge our own path, one which considers our state-specific interests and needs to formulate a tailor-made foreign policy for Queensland, and the sooner the better.