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The backing of unlikely bed fellows Iran and Israel was key to Australia’s stunning victory in the Security Council campaign.
Great achievement for a country so far from the corridors of world power
But the emphatic win was delivered mostly thanks to the support of African nations who overwhelming swung their votes behind Australia.
Winners ... Australia's Foreign Minister Bob Carr casts his ballot. Photo: AFP
Canberra's $25 million campaign for a seat at the world's top table paid off early today, when Australia raced ahead of Luxembourg and Finland in voting at UN headquarters to win membership of the UN Security Council.
A triumphant Foreign Minister Bob Carr told reporters in the UN lobby: "It's always good to see Australia win - and this is a big, juicy, decisive win."
Australia's stint on the Security Council will begin on January 1 and will last for two years.
Finland — the early favourite eventually beaten by European minnow Luxembourg and left without a seat - is thought to have simply underestimated Australia’s support, thinking it had Africa’s votes stitched up.
Israel was among the first to publicly pledge backing for Australia’s bid back in 2008, with the Iranians only indicating in the past couple of weeks they would also vote Australia’s way.
The secret ballot means the identity of 140 countries that delivered the prized seat on the council to Australia cannot be definitely known - but the final tally, winning beyond the required two-thirds of votes in the first round, has come as a shock to those close to the campaign.
‘‘Beyond the most optimistic of our most confident predictions,’’ said one insider.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard visited the Foreign Affairs and Trade headquarters in Canberra this morning to thank public servants involved in the campaign.
''This group of people knows that it's really hard and it takes a lot of work,'' Ms Gillard said.
She thanked a long list of people involved in the successful bid, including former prime minister Kevin Rudd, who had the ''foresight'' to launch Australia's diplomatic push five years ago, and the tenacity to pursue it when foreign affairs minister.
Ms Gillard thanked former foreign affairs minister Stephen Smith and Trade Minister Craig Emerson, as well as Mr Carr, who is still in New York.
''I think the fact that we came through is not only a tribute to Australia's diplomacy but to Austalia's reputation around the world,'' she said.
Ms Gillard told reporters today the seat would help Australia pursue its goals, including for peace.
‘‘Australians care about living on a planet that is a peaceful planet. That relates to the work of the Security Council,’’ she said.
Ms Gillard said Australia could not afford not to engage with the international community.
‘‘It’s never been true that you can be just your own island and a fortress. You’ve always had to engage with the world.’’
Australia’s priorities in the two years it will be a non-permanent council member would include advocating for action to protect Syrian civilians, continued engagement in East Timor, the fight against terrorism and non-proliferation, she said.
‘‘We do believe there needs to be action to address the violence in Syria, so we will certainly advocate for that,’’ Ms Gillard said.
‘‘We will be dealing with issues of importance to our nation including the UN engagement with the mission in Afghanistan and the future of that mission beyond 2014.
‘‘And it is the Security Council which will have to continue to wrestle with the violence in Syria and the way in which that violence can be brought to an end.’’
She said it was dissapointing that the Opposition ‘‘hasn’t had the generosity of spirit to say, ‘this is a great thing’’’.
Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey suggested that now Australia was on the Security Council, the UN could help Australia ‘‘stop the boats’’.
‘‘If the UN helps us stop the boats, then it’s a worthy investment,’’ he told reporters in Sydney.
Senator Carr signalled that the Security Council business in most need of attention by Australia and four other new non-permanent members included the Syrian civil war. He hedged on a bid by Palestinians for greater representation in the UN and he urged greater acknowledgement for the reform process in Burma.
In Australian domestic politics, the vote amounts to a vindication of Mr Rudd's decision to bid for the seat - five years after both Finland and Luxembourg had begun campaigning. Also, it was a rebuke for Opposition Leader Tony Abbott who last month ridiculed the Prime Minister for "swanning around New York" with Africans when she attended the UN.
Senator Carr this morning praised Ms Gillard for her work lobbying other nations, and also recognised Mr Rudd's early work on the campaign.
He said the Coalition should now embrace Australia's victory.
''This is an unequivocal win for Australia and we couldn't have done it without the prime minister's lobbying," Senator told ABC Radio.
''Julia Gillard engaged in intensive diplomacy with heads of government and heads of state and made a big hit in the UN last month.''
Mr Abbott welcomed the win, but said this morning it came at the cost of many tens of millions of dollars and some dislocation of ordinary diplomatic processes.
''It was an expensive win and I think it probably owes as much to Kevin Rudd as to Julia Gillard, but nevertheless a win's a win,'' he told the Nine Network.
"Let's hope we put the next two years on the security council to good use.''
After weeks of seeming anxiety driven by the opaque uncertainty of the secretive UN voting system, Canberra's ambassador to the UN, Gary Quinlan, acknowledged that Australia might have had a better sense of voting trends than it was letting on. He told reporters: "People voted the way they told us they would vote."
But in explaining the victory vote, Mr Quinlan said that in past votes as much as 25 per cent of promised votes failed to materialise. In the lead-up to today's vote, Australia had been pledged about 150 votes which meant that, after taking account of a possible 25 per cent discount, the race was going to be close.
The seat won by Australia is one of two allocated to what it known as the West European and Other Group of UN countries, which included Australia for reasons of its membership of the Commonwealth.
Celebrating the win as a victory for Australian diplomacy and values, Mr Carr argued that Canberra's margin was greater than that won by Germany two years ago - "great achievement for a country so far from the corridors of world power."
Australia was elected on the first of what had been expected to be at least several rounds of voting before any of the candidates registered the required two-thirds majority.
In the first poll, Australia secured an 11-vote buffer against a precarious run-off vote. Finland, the favourite in the field, was left floundering, as Luxembourg outpolled it - 128-108.
In a spill vote, Luxembourg defeated the stunned Finns by 131 to 60 votes.
with Bianca Hall, AAP