A key commitment of the 2017 Australian Foreign Policy White Paper under the then Foreign Minister Julie Bishop was for the Australian Government to undertake a rigorous and relevant review of our soft power capabilities and assets.
Soft power was defined in the document as the ability to influence the behaviour and thinking of others through the power of attraction and ideas. Australia's soft power assets include our democratic system, higher education institutions, our international development assistance program, our tourism attractions, our economic strengths and aspects of our national identity such as culture and lifestyle.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade announced that it was leading the whole of government soft power review to ensure our nation continues to accumulate soft power and apply influence effectively. The review sought to identify better ways to harness our soft power assets and build collaborative partnerships to advance our prosperity and security. High impact and innovative diplomacy required DFAT and its stakeholders to identify new ways to engage in a systematic way. Australia needed to develop a sophisticated approach to managing its soft power assets. Written submissions were invited and received from key domestic and international stakeholders by 28 Sept. 2018.
The Soft Power Review was undertaken prior to the onset of the global COVID-19 pandemic. In October 2020 the Australian Government concluded that it should not continue investing resources in a process that it views as no longer relevant to the significantly changed global environment, and decided to discontinue the review.
What motivated our Foreign Minister Senator Payne to make such a decision and what are the implications for Australia?
First, it appears that the political elite in Canberra does not seem to understand or value the art and craft of soft power strategy and impact for Australia and its place in the world today. Obviously our Foreign Minister does not think that soft power matters in the bigger scheme of things. Most of our investment goes into hard power, strategic policy and preparation for war with our biggest trading partner.
Second, there is too much influence by the military-industrial and security complex on Australian foreign policy and diplomacy. This is evident from the attention, time and money that is given to the defence budget and to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute and its corporate shapers. There is also way to little debate in the Australian Parliament on the Foreign Policy and Diplomacy. The mainstream media has failed to challenge the Foreign Minister on many important foreign policy issues and challenges facing Australia including the soft power review.
Third, the political elite does not seem to respect the key domestic and international stakeholders who took the time to made written submissions to the soft power review.
Fourth, the political elite does not seem to value research and analysis from our leading foreign policy academics, centres and think tanks in Australia and the world.
Fifth, the political elite does not seem to value the contributions of the vast majority of Australian diaspora communities to advancing Australia' foreign policy strategy and soft power impact enhancement in the world.
Sixth, the political elite is not following its own 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper recommendations, commitments and its Stakeholder Engagement Strategy. It misleads stakeholders into thinking that their views matter but in reality they don't.
Seventh, our political elite is ignoring the important role that soft power has played by major, middle and minor powers in our region, the world and its growing importance in statecraft.
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