This time last year, we were contemplating the possibility of Australia breaking into The Soft Power 30 top five. What a difference a year makes, with Australia moving the opposite direction. Australia’s decline isn’t necessarily down to a weaker showing – its overall score has remained steady and its objective assets are consistently strong. But with Japan and Switzerland both investing more resources into soft power and public diplomacy, Australia has been leapfrogged. That’s not to say Australia hasn’t made significant inroads in many areas, most notably in the Engagement sub-index where it has jumped an impressive five places following the opening of a number of new missions around the world. Australia also maintains its top-five position in our Culture sub-index – a reflection of its stunning and diverse landscapes, multi-cultural restaurant offering, and of course its thriving tourism sector. Australia should be proud of its top-10 ranking – especially given constraints around size and geography – but a greater soft power and diplomacy push is needed if it hopes to regain its former position.
Education. Australia is competing with the global heavyweights in terms of education, and is outperformed only by the US and UK in attracting international students. The country possesses the raw academic talent – it’s now time to translate this talent into better education scores and a more significant contribution to academic research.
Australia has fallen seven places in the Digital sub-index, down to 14th place. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop’s emoji diplomacy has been clever and effective but on its own is not enough to compete with some of the more active heads of state. And as domestic political duties keep Bishop in the capital for critical votes, it is even more critical for the rest of the government to develop a consolidated approach to digital diplomacy.
Australia’s laidback lifestyle, welcoming people, and natural beauty means it has never struggled with international perceptions. But the lucky country has slipped two places in our international polling data. With the world facing unprecedented global political shifts and a redrawing of international relationships, Australia could do more to assert its position on the global stage.