Australia presses case for UN prize

Prime Minister Julia Gillard and NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen at Parliament House.AUSTRALIA’S quest for a prized seat on the United Nations Security Council is in its crucial final phase, with intense lobbying to win backing from 129 countries.

There are hopes – but no early champagne – that Australia is well placed to win a battle with Finland and Luxembourg.

”It is something like measured optimism, but it is a long way from being a sure thing,” veteran former diplomat John McCarthy told The Age.

Mr McCarthy is one of several special envoys who have fanned across the globe to put Australia’s case.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard will press the case at a summit of world leaders in New York in September.

But her guest in Canberra yesterday, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said while he was ”appreciative” of efforts to make the council more effective, NATO never interfered in how its members voted.

Australia is competing for one of two temporary spots on the council reserved for ”Western European and other” countries, with the vote to be held in October.

Labor has allocated more than $20 million to the bid since then prime minister Kevin Rudd threw Australia’s hat into the ring, a late entry after Luxembourg and Finland had declared their candidacy years earlier.

The late start has hampered Australia, with several countries, including Canada and Indonesia, having already to committed to its rivals in the first round of voting.

But Australia is hoping to peel off votes in a second-round ballot should no country initially win the required two-thirds from the 193 countries eligible to vote.

Australia has already secured a swag of votes, with Thailand’s prime minister the latest to pledge support last month during a visit to Canberra.

Other commitments have been given by Pacific island nations, New Zealand and a handful of Caribbean countries.

But close observers warn many countries only make up their mind – or change it – in the last weeks, making the lobbying effort from now up to the vote a critical time.

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