The results came in overnight, after two rounds of voting, and Australia won by a clear margin.
Australia's bid was launched by former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, and the baton was picked up by his successor, Julia Gillard - who intensified her lobbying for votes at this year's UN General Assembly and the Pacific Islands Forum. Australia's Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs, Richard Marles, was at the United Nations in New York for last night's vote.
Presenter: Geraldine Coutts
Speaker: Richard Marles, Australian Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs and Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs
MARLES: It's a very, very sweet moment for Australia, can I say it's a very sweet moment for the Pacific, because the bedrock of our support in this campaign has been the Pacific from day one and indeed that support has spread to other island nations around the world, such as the Caribbean and the Indian Ocean and we're very grateful for that. And I think the Pacific very much knows that in Australia sitting on the Security Council now, they're sitting there as well and we very much want to take the issues that face the Pacific right to what is the most significant body on the planet.
COUTTS: Now, what were the numbers in the end?
MARLES: We had 140 votes on the first round of voting, which was not what we expected. We thought it would be closer to that, a two-thirds majority was 129 votes that was required to be elected. So we were actually elected on the first round and then there was a run off between Luxembourg and Finland in the second round of voting.
We really did think it would be a much closer vote than that, but it is a real vindication that the trust that the world has in Australia, the values that we have and the respect that people have and expect in terms of the professional way we'll go about the work that we're about to do.
COUTTS: Now how you went about the vote has been criticised by some and some are saying Australia spent an awful lot of money on it. How much was the final figure?
MARLES: Look, $25 million was - roughly $25 million - was spent on the campaign and that's a typical amount to manage a campaign over what is a very long period of time. We entered this campaign late as people are aware and so Luxembourg for example have been in this race for 11 years. But it does cost money to put your message out there and to put your credentials before the world. But I would argue win, lose or draw, the exercise of putting our credentials before the world is a really valuable exercise in terms of intensifying and sharpening our foreign policy and really getting feedback about our place in the world, but also about how countries see themselves and where they're going and what the particular regions are going and it has been an invaluable exercise in that regard, which will have a legacy that will go well beyond these two years.
COUTTS: And the $25 million, how is it spent, who does that go to?
MARLES: Oh well, that is really spent in putting together the campaign that is required to put your case out there, making sure that we have the required staff here in New York to do what they need to do, making sure that we're able to be at all the significant events around the world. I was at the African Union earlier this year, the Caribbean community meeting, and, of course the Pacific Forum meeting. But there are meetings of that kind all around the world and there's a significant amount of work that is required in all of that and that costs money. It's been over a period of time and this is a pretty typical budget. Indeed, Alexander Downer was suggesting that maybe we needed to spend more. So I think that this was the right figure to base our campaign upon and today is a real vindication of the decision to run and it's a great day for Australia and I think every Australian today should feel proud of the sense of trust that the world has in us and today's as much a day for the Australian diplomats around the world, for those who are serving in Afghanistan and other peacekeeping and peace building missions around the world, our police. These are the people who bear Australia's standard and it is the confidence that people have in them which was reflected in the vote that we saw today.
COUTTS: Well, it's a two year stint, non-permanent seat. What are the expectations now of Australia?
MARLES: Well, we have significant experience in peace building, we've got significant experience in peace building in our own region, in East Timor, in Solomon Islands, in Bougainville and there are lessons that have been learnt there that we really can take to the world. If you look at the RAMSI mission in Solomon Islands, it really is world's best practice in terms of regional intervention into a country which was experiencing really a state of chaos at the time that RAMSI began its work in 2003, and now, Solomons has had an amazing year in hosting the Oceanic Football Series, hosting the Pacific Festival of Arts, hosting a Royal visit, hosting the 70th anniversary of Guadalcanal and all of this has been done in an environment where law and order is there and we're experiencing economic growth. Now that is a story we can share with the world and the experiences that we've had in being deeply engaged in that are experiences that we can take to the Security Council and to the other work that it does and I think that's a very important message and experience that we should be sharing.
COUTTS: And will Australia be able to exert any kind of influence over the rest of the UN Security Council to achieve that faster?
MARLES: Yes, I think that we will take to our role in the Security Council the same kind of activist foreign policy that we display normally and we will seek to lead on the Security Council. Of course, we're not a permanent member and the decision for the permanent members are important in the context of needing to have consensus amongst them. But the non-permanent members play a role and we'd be seeking a higher leadership role within there as we did last served in 1985-1986, and there is very important experiences that we will bring to the Security Council in that regard. And I've mentioned the peacebuilding, but something such as the arms trade treaty, where we have been seeking to reduce the trade in small arms, that's a really important initiative which is felt very significantly in a number of countries around the world, including in the Pacific. We're very keen to progress that as an issue. We've got a long history in relation to nuclear non-proliferation and we'd be wanting to promote issues around that on the Security Council. So there's much work to do and I think the other important point, very much in the context of our being in the Pacific, is around climate change and the security dimensions to climate change and the affects they're having on our oceans.
And last year, I had the real privilege of delivering Australia's statement to the Security Council when there was for the first time a debate in that forum around climate change. And, of course, climate change is an issue being dealt with in lots of other areas, but there is a security dimension to the whole issue of climate change which the countries of the Pacific know all too well and we'll be very keen to promote those issues as well.
COUTTS: I just wondered about the power and the strength and the drive that the UN Security Council has, because we saw over the question of weapons of mass destruction, the Security Council then was asking for more time, but it was held down, so in the end it doesn't have the last say?
MARLES: Well, you can look at the Security Council in lots of different ways and often there is a focus on the Security Council when results are not achieved. But we need to understand that international cooperation of this kind is - in the context of world history - very young. I mean the League of Nations did not really succeed prior to the Second World War and the United Nations has therefore only been around since 1944.
Now in that context I think it is right that rather than looking at where the Security Council has failed. It's important to look at where the Security Council has succeeded. So whilst we've had all the issues focusing on Syria in the Security Council. At the same time, the Security Council's done really important work on Yemen and done that by consensus and now real change is happening in Yemen, which has experienced real difficulty, but in the last few months, we've seen significant amounts of money raised in accordance with a Security Council mandate which are really making a difference on the ground. So and I can cite a whole lot of examples, such as that in parts of Africa and other parts of the world. So the Security Council has very important work to do and I think it is important that we not only tell those stories where the Security Council is unable to reach outcomes, but we actually tell the stories where they do. And perhaps the last word on that is that when Australia last served on the Security Council back in 1985, 22 resolutions were passed by the Security Council then. Last year, that number was 66. So the work of the Security Council in 25 years has tripled and that would only happen because people are putting their faith in the ability of the Security Council to resolve issues. So it's very important and as a member or be it a non-permanent member for the next two years, we'll have a very important role to play in keeping that work going.
COUTTS: I think Australian diplomat, Richard Butler, was the last member of the Australian Security Council. Who will be the current one?
MARLES: Well, Gary Quinlan, who is our ambassador to the United Nations will take up the seat on behalf of Australia as our ambassador to the UN and this will be a very proud moment for him. I think today, as the Foreign Minister said today, that the hero of today's really Gary Quinlan in terms of the incredible work that he's done in really managing our campaign to win a seat on the Security Council and it will be a very sweet day indeed to see Gary Quinlan sit in that seat after all the work that he's done over the last few years in campaigning for Australia to become a member of the Security Council.