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Centre releases report on Govt Asia Pacific relations

Date: 6 February 2007
Source: Uniya

As Parliament resumes today, Uniya Jesuit Social Justice Centre has released a “report card” on the Government’s performance in 2006 in its relations with the Asia-Pacific region, assessed for the first time by nearly a hundred regional non-governmental agencies.

The most comprehensive study of its kind in Australia, the survey was conducted last year from June to August by Uniya in partnership with Griffith Asia Institute. It involved over 90 NGOs from a list of 500 from South East Asia and the Pacific.

The study seeks to understand how neighbouring NGOs perceive Australia, how they developed these perceptions, whether these perceptions are changing, and whether these organisations share Australia’s concerns on a number of foreign policy issues.

Summary of the findings:

  • There is significant goodwill in the region towards Australia. NGOs generally have ‘positive feelings’ toward Australia and regard Australia as a ‘good international citizen’.
  • While many respondents said their feelings about Australia remained the same in the past year, of those whose feelings have changed, nearly twice as many said their feelings have changed for the worse.
  • Putting Australia on notice, NGOs in the Pacific, ironically the group with the most contact with Australians, have become even more dissatisfied about Australia over the past year compared to their Asian counterparts.
  • Asian and Pacific respondents’ top foreign policy concern is the protection of the global environment.
  • Controlling illegal immigration, combating terrorism, and strengthening their country’s economy are listed among the least important foreign policy goals for the Asia Pacific.
  • Most NGOs disagreed that a close relationship between Australia and the US is positive for their region. NGOs agreed that a close relationship between Australia and China is positive.
  • Australia’s strict immigration laws, its restrictions on temporary working visas, and its harsh policy on asylum seekers are impacting on Australia’s reputation.
  • The quantity and quality of Australian development aid and unfair trade have also been listed as barriers to better relations.

Commenting on the research, Uniya Director Mary Bryant said that “the region in general feels positive about Australia but the survey suggests there are areas that require attention.”

“It suggests that Australia’s pragmatic bilateral approach to diplomacy is not enough to win over our neighbours’ hearts and minds,” she said.

“While Australia ponders about stricter immigration rules and citizenship requirements, the level of our engagement with Asia and the Pacific -- beyond the official channels -- remains worryingly low.

“The study suggests that talking about good diplomacy, improving the environment and better trade are not enough. Our neighbours want real action.

“The survey offers a number of suggestions from our regional neighbours that the Government will ignore at its own peril as it seeks greater ties with ASEAN and greater influence over events in the Pacific.”

The full report will be available for download here:
Report card on Australia’s relations with the region 2007


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