Australia’s diplomatic footprint is comprised of the diplomats and officials posted overseas and the ‘soft power’ the country can bring to bear. A larger footprint provides greater influence and access for Australian officials, businesses and citizens. DFAT has been struggling with low funding for several years, and this has affected the size of our footprint.
The Australian Labor Party has committed to establishing four new diplomatic posts, one likely to be in Indonesia and three others elsewhere in the Indo-Pacific region. It has also said that it will appoint ‘geoeconomic counsellors’ at key posts in the diplomatic network.2
Penny Wong’s speech on ‘FutureAsia and the Pacific’ →
Australia is a globally engaged trading nation, geographically distant from its largest trading and security partners including the United States, Europe and China. Diplomacy — building relationships with important partners and neighbours around the world — is therefore critical to its success. Yet Australia remains a disproportionately small diplomatic power for a country of its economic weight and wealth. It has one of the smallest diplomatic networks in the developed world, ranking behind Belgium, Hungary, Portugal, Chile and Greece — all far smaller nations with economies and populations a fraction the size of Australia’s.
The Coalition government has made a concerted effort to increase Australia’s diplomatic footprint, adding eight new posts and increasing Australia’s network to 118 posts worldwide. However, according to the Lowy Institute’s 2017 Global Diplomacy Index, this remains well below the G20 average of 194 posts and the OECD average of 132 posts.3
Since its 2009 report on Australia’s ‘diplomatic deficit’, the Lowy Institute has consistently4 argued5 that this thinned-out diplomatic network is the result of decades of government neglect and under-resourcing of Australia’s diplomacy. Despite the small increase in the network, the number of staff at those overseas posts (869) is almost 10 per cent smaller than 30 years ago (948), and DFAT funding has largely stagnated. It is continually asked to do more with less. For Australia to achieve its international aims, this needs to change.