Lukewarm Libs may hurt UN bid

THE federal opposition's negativity towards Australia's bid for a seat on the United Nations Security Council is being used against Australia by its rivals as the lobbying intensifies before the October 18 vote.

While the government won't admit it publicly, sources familiar with the lobbying process have confided that the attitude of the Coalition has been detrimental. ''It does hurt,'' said one senior official.

''It is being used against us by opponents who say 'Australia isn't committed','' he said. ''We're the only country where the opposition has spoken negatively about the bid. It's very odd.''

This morning, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said that the UN bid was distorting Australia's foreign policy priorities.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard used her first address to the United Nations General Assembly yesterday to advance Australia's case. Unlike previous addresses by Australian prime ministers and foreign ministers, the assembly was well attended and Ms Gillard was applauded afterwards.

Ms Gillard left for Australia this morning after visiting New York's Ground Zero to view the new tower being built, tour the new memorial and pay her respects to those who died there, including 10 Australians.

She said it was a time to "reflect on everything we lost on that dreadful day'' and a reminder of why Australia went to fight in Afghanistan.

Ms Gilllard left New York saying she was enouraged about Australia's bid for the Security Council but said lobbying would continue right up until the vote. She said whatever the outcome of the vote, her week in Manhattan had impressed upon her ''that Australia is a nation that is respected in the world''.

Australia, Luxembourg and Finland are competing for two of the 10 temporary spots on the 15-member Security Council. It will be decided by a ballot of the UN's 193-member nations next month. Publicly and privately, the government and its officials say the vote is too close to call and the result probably won't be known until the day. Foreign Affairs Minister Bob Carr, who by yesterday had met officially with 26 foreign ministers in three days, said Australia had stitched up the votes of 14 Caribbean nations.

If successful, Australia would have a seat in 2013 and 2014 and if Mr Abbott wins the next election, much of Australia's tenure would be under a Coalition government. The Coalition initially opposed the bid outright, saying it was a waste of money and would risk Australia having to compromise on foreign policy to woo votes.

Its position since has been lukewarm and ambivalent. The shadow foreign affairs minister, Julie Bishop, now argues the Coalition supports the bid but disagrees with the way it has been conducted.

At the same time, Mr Abbott berated Ms Gillard for going to New York this week and ''swanning around with Africans'', saying she should have gone to Jakarta instead to talk about boat people with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

But Dr Yudhoyono was also in New York, one of 140 foreign leaders attending the General Assembly. Ms Gillard and Dr Yudhoyono sat together yesterday at a meeting.

When shown a photo of the two leaders chatting by the Nine Network this morning, Mr Abbott responded: ''We need more than a photo op, we need a strategy to stop the boats.''

He said he would rather see Australia on the council than not, and brushed aside suggestions that his attitude towards the bid could hamper the country's chances.

''If we can't beat Luxembourg, there's something wrong, frankly,'' he said.

Ms Gillard's speech to the General Assembly stressed several strengths, including Australia's generous aid program and its strong peacekeeping record, including nation building.

In a reference to China and Russia, the two permanent members of the Security Council that stand by the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, Ms Gillard said the UN must unite over Syria and act decisively to end the suffering of its people.

"And to rebuild Syrian society, those who are committing crimes against humanity must be held accountable,'' she said.

With AAP

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The story Lukewarm Libs may hurt UN bid first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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