Australia as a Good International Citizen

Australia as a Good International Citizen

By Alison Pert


From time to time, politicians describe Australia as a “good international citizen”. But what does this mean, exactly? What constitutes good international citizenship? And does Australia really qualify as a good international citizen? This book attempts to answer these questions.

Very little has been written about good international citizenship. Most of the limited literature is by international relations scholars and practitioners and therefore naturally tends to focus on Australian foreign policy. Nobody has ventured a definition of the term, or even a list of qualities that a good international citizen should possess. This book therefore begins by proposing such a list, and identifies two particularly important elements: compliance with international law, and support for multilateralism.

Using these elements as a yardstick, Dr Pert then seeks to measure Australia’s good international citizenship throughout its post-Federation history. Account is given of the shenanigans of Billy Hughes at the 1919 peace conference in Versailles (not a great example of good international citizenship); the forgotten contribution to international economic and social cooperation of Stanley Bruce in the late 1930s; “Doc” Evatt’s astonishing performance at San Francisco in 1945, where the United Nations Charter was negotiated, and his personal influence on the form the new world organisation was to take; the almost dormant Menzies years; the Whitlam revolution and re-engagement with the world; and the Fraser reaction. The analysis continues with the Hawke/Keating, Howard, and Rudd/Gillard governments.

One of the main conclusions the book draws from this analysis is that states – whether Australia or others such as the archetypically “good” Scandinavian states – can be paragons of good international citizenship in one area (say, overseas aid) but the opposite in another (such as repulsion of asylum-seekers, or arms exports). Thus, it argues, “good international citizenship” is not a blanket term that can be applied to a state. Instead, a state can be a good international citizen in some areas, and quite the opposite in others. A full account of how Australia rates from this perspective is given from Federation to the demise of the second Rudd government in 2013.


Good International Citizenship: Values and Interests in Foreign Policymaking
Address by Professor the Hon Gareth Evans AC QC FASSA FAIIA to Sydney University Law School, 27 August 2015

"[T]hat is about as far as I have taken the concept of good international citizenship in my own speeches and writings over the last three decades. But I am delighted to acknowledge, in her presence here this evening, that we now have a scholar, Sydney University’s Dr Alison Pert, who has taken the idea a good deal further in her book Australia as a Good International Citizen, published last year.

Alison has done not only scholars but policymakers a great service in this book. For a start, she focuses far more concentrated attention than I ever did on defining the core idea of good international citizenship, and teasing out all its possible dimensions: not just support for multilateralism, and willingness to “pitch in” to international tasks, and doing “international good deeds”, on which I have tended to focus, but also compliance with international law, and leadership in improving or raising international standards.

Overall, the practical relevance of Alison Pert’s very scholarly work is that she gives our foreign policy makers, and those elsewhere, in effect a whole new set of talking points to use in persuading possibly reluctant domestic audiences that pursuing “purposes beyond ourselves” is not a fringe activity best left to missionaries and the naïve, but something that every state worth the name should be doing, by which it will be judged by the rest of the world, and by which its citizens will directly benefit if it gets it right." Read the full Speech...

In the media...


Published 8 December 2014
Publisher The Federation Press
ISBN 9781862879874
Australian RRP $125.00
International Price $120.00