Alexander Downer wanted a key seat at the United Nations despite strong opposition from a central federal department, cabinet documents from 2000 show.
Long-serving foreign affairs minister Alexander Downer had ambitions for an Australian presence on the United Nations Security Council, according to cabinet documents released by the National Archives of Australia on Friday.
A seat was crucial for Australia's national interests, and would cement the nation as a "serious" global player, Mr Downer wrote in a September 2000 cabinet submission.
Concerns were raised that Australia's knowledge and influence in the international body would be lost given it last held a spot in 1985 and had failed a later bid two years earlier.
Mr Downer added the role was considered an important part of international "burden sharing" and Australia would need to "pull its weight" or be looked at unfavourably on the world stage.
He said expressing Australia's interest in attaining the 2007-8 slot was the most rational choice at the time and a final decision to proceed would not be needed for two years.
Nominating for that period would give the country a six-year campaign period for one of the two coveted slots, with only Belgium also expressing interest. An early expression of interest would also give pause to potential competitors considering a bid.
"An early announcement of interest would maximise the chances of securing an WEOG slate and enable us to gradually build our campaign through our routine diplomacy over an extended period at little or no additional cost," Mr Downer wrote in his submission.
"This strategy would build a strong platform from which to launch the final campaign, should the government then decide to proceed."
But while both the Department of Defence and Treasury supported the submission, the Prime Minister's department said it could not given Australia's low chance of success.
The central department said while there might be some benefits, it pointed to a number of factors that would make Australia's success unlikely.
One of those was a "poor level" of support from African nations as well as policy positions taken by the Howard government that had put Australia at odds with influential countries or their groupings.
"The submission correctly emphasises the political costs of a second unsuccessful candidacy, and the low likelihood of Australia being part of an uncontested WEOG [Western European and Other Group] slate in 2007-8," the department said.
"On balance, the department does not believe that the benefits that might flow from a successful bid would warrant the resources required to mount such a campaign, and the risks of another failure."
The department said if a campaign and bid were to go ahead, it should do so within the existing departmental budget.
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Two years later, the bid proposal had been dropped and Australia wouldn't sit on the council for another decade in 2013-4 under the Gillard, Rudd and Abbott governments.
An official reason for the ditch was never publicly acknowledged but the then-shadow foreign affairs minister Kevin Rudd said in 2002 there were reports Mr Downer faced criticism within cabinet over a separate issue.
Mr Rudd considered it a "pathetic excuse" and called for Mr Downer to not "wimp out" on his commitment to a security council bid.
"No one in the Coalition party room voiced opposition to Mr Downer's previous announcement that Australia will seek a position on the UN Security Council - particular[ly] as it will be 20 years since we were last on the Council under the Hawke-Labor Government," Mr Rudd said in a press release.
"Mr Downer's challenge is to simply not wimp out - but instead, to use the intervening period to rebuild Australia's international standing from the low point it has now reached."
As time would tell, the Howard government would lose the 2007 election to a Rudd-led Labor Party and Australia would not gain a seat at the table for another six years.