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In a more complex, multi-polar world, Australia needs to be able to anticipate, interpret and influence the course of events. Diplomacy is the most cost-effective policy instrument to promote and secure our interests in a fast-changing world. Our overseas network has been neglected and run down over decades. Time is running out for government to reverse the disrepair and take meaningful, sustained action to rebuild Australia’s diplomatic infrastructure.

The Government likes to talk up Australia’s status an active middle power and is throwing everything at the bid for a seat on the UN Security Council in 2013–14. Views differ on the merits of seeking a seat on the Security Council. But there should be no arguing that it needs to be properly funded and should not come at the cost of our key foreign policy priorities. Frankly, the bid looks like something of a luxury considering that Australia has one of the smallest diplomatic networks of any of the OECD nations, and the smallest of all G20 nations — despite having the world’s 13th largest economy.