Is Australian Foreign Policy Now Independent?


It is necessary for countries to interact with each other on a formal basis especially now that globalisation has made this phonomenon innevitable. Countries interact with each other based on their interests in other countries such as trade, security, aid and other natural resources that facilitate the smooth running of operations between such countries. These interactions warrant governments to come up with formal policies that govern such relations and ensure that these interactions do not in any way interfere with the general nature of matters in different countries. This is because different countries have different values, domestic policies and culture which affect the way they do things and as such it is necessary to determine a middle ground on which these countries can interact in an acceptable manner. These interactions are made in such a way as to eliminate the possibilty of one country gaining an unfair advantage over other countries, that is they are made for the mutual benefits of the different countries which they are supposed to serve.

According to Henehan, foreign Policy refers to the official deeds and reactions to these deeds that independent states put in place to govern their relations with reference to the actions of other sovereign states (p. 55). Such policies are made in consideration of domestic policies and behaviours as well as those of other countries. Foreign policies contain various issues regarding different relationships such as trade, security and defence, foreign aid, economic and environmental interests as well as other foreign commitments a country may have with other countries.

This paper is based on the point of view that Australia’s Foreign Policy has not achieved independence as has always been sought and the research content will act as supporting evidence to this point of view.

Australian Foreign Policy

In order to understand the challenges posed to Australia’s foreign policy independence, it is necessary to understand the basis upon which the policy was formulated as well as its fundamental contents as outlined below. Accoprding to Gyngell and Wesley, foreign policy making is based upon a countries priorities which in most cases represent the values and objectives of the government making the policies as well as the society which the government serves and their impact on the daily operations of the country (p. 17).

Australia’s foreign policy is based on the country’s primary values and belies which are those of perseverance and tolerance among its people through which the country has been able to achieve national unity and cohesion through various experiences over the years. Liberalism is also emphasised in different areas such as economic and political liberalism as well as other freedoms which are by and large believed to contribute to the stability and prosperity of the country both at the domestic and international level. Such foreign policy has enabled the country and still enables it to deal with challenges that come with different developments such as globalisation (Fitzgibbon vii-ix).

Foreign policy implementation for Australia has faced different challenges largely because it not only has to take care of the interests of the country, but also that of other countries. Australia’s foreign policy is largely dependent on the globalisation process where the country is an active participant. As such the country’s foreign policy is influenced by global influences and as such its independence is limited. Australia’s successive governance authorities have contributed to the success that has been achieved so far in its foreign policy by engaging in strategies and policies that work for its interests both at the domestic and international scale. The country’s foreign policy contains interests such as those of security and defence, matters of the economy and foreign aid, among other pressing issues.

Foreign Trade and Economic Policy

Trade has for a long time taken a forefront position as far as Australia’s foreign policy is concerned in the past and at present this position has been emphasised more so as a result of the effects of globalisation. Australia engages in trade with different countries and this has its effects on the economy of the country and other financial aspects as affected by foreign trade such as custom duties and tariffs. The policies held by these countries affect the way Australia conducts business with them and Australia’s policy also affects the way they do business. In the 1960’s Australia laregly relied on Britain economically and politically but later this changed to reliance onthe United States and Japan (Goldsworthy, p. 2). This shows the end of an era of reliance on one country to the begining of another, meaning that instead of working towards independence, the country just changed the parties on whom they relied on. At present, most of Australia’s economic interests lie in the Asian Pacific region where the country exports most of its products as well as engages in foreign direct investment. In order to advance its commercial and economic interests, Australia has developed a trade policy that incorporates several multilateral, bilateral and regional aspects. These policies are formulated with other countries in mind as they are meant to reduce trade and economic barriers for Australia’s investments in other countries goods and services markets as well as the investment sector.

The interwoven global economy also affects the operations of Australia’s economy and as such its foreign policy regarding various economic interests. This was largely portrayed in the 2008 global economic crisis whose effects were felt across the globe and Australia was no exception. Its economic relations with countries such as China contributed to the ripples that were faced in the country due to its reliance on China’s mining exports, meaning that China’s demand influences Australia’s dependence on the country. As such Australia’s quest for independence from the foreign policy tying it to China must be carefully dealt with as decisions relating to it will have an impact on the relations between the two countries.

For example free trade agreements with countries such as the United States, Singapore, China and Japan, bilateral and multilateral trade links with ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) member states (Fitzgibbon xiv-xv). Australia’s involvement with the World Trade Organisation (WTO) has always been considered significant. Such involvement means that Australia has to adhere to the rules and policies stipulated in WTO agreements just like other countries, aimed at providing a clear, predictable business environment for carrying on international business activities. In such agreements trade issues such as tariffs and custom duties are restricted at certain levels meaning that countries like Australia have to contend with them. This in turn implies that Australia cannot act outside these rules as well as those stipulated in agreements with other countries even if they are not favourable to its trade and economic operations.

According to Fitzgibbon, Australia relies on its relations with other countries, that is those of a bilateral, regional and multilateral nature, to be able to press forward a majority of its interests (p. 7). As such its strength as a unilateral power is to a great extent limited since such bilateral backing is necessary for the country to deal with regional and world issues. This goes to show that Australia’s independence with regards to this aspect of foreign policy is limited as at times it has to adhere to trade rules set by multinational bodies such as WTO or agreements reached upon on compromise by different countries. The only way Australia can achieve full independence on such policies is if the agreements were based purely on its terms or if its terms were more dominant, but since this is not the case and may not be the case even in future, absolute independence will always prove elusive for the country.

Security and Defence Policies

Security and defence are a major part of any country’s foreign policy and Australia is no exception. This is because a country’s economy can only thrive in a secure and stable environment (Downer para. 24). The stability and security of the wider Asia Pacific region greatly influences that of Australia. Australia carries out constant dialogues with other countries concerning its security, on a bilateral and regional level as well as with members of other regions and states like the United States in a bid to encourage transparency and dedication to ensuring a secure environment for themselves and their citizens. This means that the foreign policy governing security of the country is largely dependent on decisions made on a corporate level as opposed to individual decisions. The country has also increased such dialogues and agreements over the years especially with the Asian Pacific countries and the United States. This increases the level of security threats levelled against the country especially by those countries which do not agree with the policies of the countries which Australia has partnerships with.

Even though some of these alliances have proven helpful for example in fighting terror, the infiltration of mass destruction weapons in the country and helped restore diplomatic relations with countries such as the Democratic People‚Äôs Republic of Korea in 2000, they have also portrayed a wide range of negativities. For example the country‚Äôs foreign policy regarding security as made in partnership with the United States during president Bush‚Äôs administration was largely questioned as it did not seem to be in the best interest of the country. Even when policies outlined by the Bush administration, such as Iraq‚Äôs invasion, showed a great deal of failure, Australia continuously showed its support to the country. It is such decisions to support these policies that America‚Äôs power over that of its ‚Äúpartners‚ÄĚ on the war against terrorism is portrayed and the lack of independence or limited independence of countries like Australia as far as independence in creating workable foreign policies on defence and security also comes up. As such the independence of Australia in security and defence related foreign policy is undermined. It should however be noted that a complete abandonment of such policies will also not work in the favour of Australia, and as such the country should engage itself in those policies that will seek to create peace, security and freedom as with these three things, these countries will benefit and as such Australia will also benefit as relations with these countries will be smoother and encourage development on different levels including the country‚Äôs economy.

Foreign Aid as a Part of Australia’s Foreign Policy

Australia’s foreign policy consists of provisions regarding foreign aid and the country therefore offers aid to countries riddled with poverty and which require development funding. Countries benefiting from this aid include some from Africa, the Middle East, the Asia-Pacific region as well as some from South Asia. This is done by Australia as it seeks to develop and expand its national interest in these countries in the quest of building prosperity and stability for these countries. In making such foreign aid policy, Australia has to follow certain rules such that its aid is not seen as a way of gaining unfair advantage and interest over the countries receiving aid. If such aid comes with strings that are seen to exert negative dominance on such countries, Australia will be portrayed in a negative light and as such it has to make such policies with these issues in mind to avoid unwarranted consequences.

Australia’s ranking as a middle power on the international level has also undermined its independence and its influence on other countries and their foreign policy decisions. As such it mostly operates in partnerships with other countries as opposed to as a dominant player who has authoritarian influence upon other countries. According to Keating, Australia’s population compared to that of the world in itself limits the country’s foreign policy independence as it does not have the numbers necessary to gain the level of influence or power over others that would be deemed enough to acquire complete independence or at least a level of dominance that would portray independence (para. 30-34). This means that Australia cannot achieve unilateral independence as far as having foreign policy that is specifically made to work for it as an individual country is concerned. As such Australia has always been forced in most instances to align itself with allies who are considered powerful in order to push its agenda forward and in the process earn such allies support and protection when necessary, for example when pushing for certain courses.


Based on the discussion above it can be concluded that Australia’s Foreign policy has not yet reached independence and it may not do so even in future due to the interdependence and complex nature of the interactions that the society has to contend with in the present day. Globalisation has over time led to large forms of interactions between different states in different regions of the world and as such this has influenced the decision making process as followed by the decision making authorities in the different parts of the world such that if a country like Australia has to come up with policies concerning, it has to consider how the policies will affect other countries and how the policies will reflect on it as a country. Australia’s bilateral, regional and multilateral relations with other countries and regions have also contributed to the elusive independence that has been advocated for by proponents of independent social policy. The country’s association with the United States has also largely contributed to the nation’s lack of foreign policy independence and the only way its quest to achieve independence can be developed is if such an association was subjected to flexibility and independence in policy decision making. At present even though the country has not achieved full independence, it has managed to put in place international links that has so far worked for it. This coupled by the country’s internal strength has continued to ensure economic and political strength which has resulted to progress and prosperity for the country.

Works Cited

  1. Downer, Alexander. ‚Äú40 Years of Australian Foreign Policy – Democracy, Liberalism and Australia’s National Interests‚ÄĚ. 2006.
  2. Fitzgibbon, Jeff. ‚ÄúAdvancing the National Interest: Australia‚Äôs Foreign and Trade Policy White Paper‚ÄĚ. Australia: Common Wealth of Australia, 2003.
  3. Goldsworthy, David. Losing the Blanket: Australia and the end of Britain’s Empire. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2002.
  4. Gyngell, Allan. & Wesley, Michael. Making Australian Foreign Policy. New York: Cambrige University Press, 2007.
  5. Henehan, Marie. Foreign Policy and Congress: An International Relations Perspective. Michigan: The University of Michigan Press, 2000.
  6. Keating, Paul. ‚ÄúJohn Curtin‚Äôs World and Ours‚ÄĚ. 2005.

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