Australia dives in global soft power index as Fortress Australia takes its toll
London: Australia’s hard-line COVID isolation policies have dragged down the nation’s international standing in the past year.
According to the annual Brand Finance’s 2022 Global Soft Power Index, government decisions that stranded citizens and foreigners overseas for more than two years knocked Australia and New Zealand out of the top 10 and 20 countries, respectively.
According to the Australian government, soft power is “the ability to influence the behaviour or thinking of others through the power of attraction and ideas” which it says is “vital to our foreign policy”.
The result marks a total turnaround from the ranking in the pandemic’s first year, when an initial Zero-COVID stance propelled Australia from 13th to 10th and made New Zealand the fastest rising nation on the list.
Prime ministers Scott Morrison and Jacinda Ardern have both presided over a decline in their countries’ soft power in the past year.Credit:Getty Images
Those gains have been undone by both countries’ reluctance to reopen borders, according to Brand Finance’s 2022 Global Soft Power Index with Australia falling back to 13th and New Zealand declining from 16th to 21st.
“Australia and New Zealand see declines as COVID isolation policies adversely affect international perceptions,” Dr Paul Temporal from the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School observed.
Australia’s scores in the categories “reputation” and “people and values” were harmed and both Australia and New Zealand were overtaken in the index by nations that rolled out vaccinations faster and reopened earlier.
“Less interaction globally has led to an out-of-sight, out-of-mind perception, especially in terms of a great place to visit,” Mark Crowe from Brand Finance Australia said.
He said while the continued high scores reflected Australia’s relatively successful management of the pandemic, delays in the vaccine rollout combined with prolonged restrictions had “probably prevented Australia from being ranked higher”.
“Strong preventative measures along with strict quarantine measures did elevate negative perceptions in terms of restrictions [of] movement and impact on the economy,” he said.
Sydney airport in October 2020. Australia’s closed borders caused a significant shift in how it is perceived globally.Credit:Janie Barrett
The study sent another dire warning for Australia’s tourism sector which is facing a long road to recovery.
In 2021, Australia was ranked 1st in the world as “a great place to visit” but it has now slipped to fourth place in that measure.
“For a place that had been widely recognised for its vibrant tourism industry, the legacy of a screeching halt to international visits will present a challenge that needs to be addressed,” the report warned.
Former race discrimination commissioner and now director of Sydney University’s Sydney Policy Lab Tim Soutphommasane said the results were “sadly, no surprise”.
“The prolonged stance of ‘Fortress Australia’ was always going to damage our international reputation,” he said.
“The closure of borders sent a clear signal that Australia believed it could stand apart from the world.
“Many Australians mightn’t like to hear this, but the country needs to shake off the insular, parochial, little-Australia mindset that has gripped it for much of the past two years,” Soutphommasane said.
Last month Tourism Australia launched its bid to woo back long-haul travellers but separate data showed it faced an uphill battle luring Britons back to Bondi. The majority of those in the UK who planned to travel overseas nominated Australia as the last place on earth they planned to visit.
The annual Brand Finance’s Index surveys more than 100,000 people in 100 countries about perceptions of 120 countries to arrive at its ranking.
Respondents include members of the public and a cohort of specialists in the fields of diplomacy, business and other sectors considered targets and conduits for soft power.
Countries are graded on awareness and familiarity, influence, global reputation and performance in key sectors including trade and business, governance, culture and heritage, media and communication, education and science, people and values.
This year’s index was good news for Australia’s AUKUS partners. The United States jumped five spots back into first position, displacing Germany, while the UK climbed back up into second place.
The British-made AstraZeneca COVID vaccine, which was given to the world at cost but initially shunned by Australia in favour of Pfizer’s for-profit mRNA vaccine, contributed to the UK’s success this year.
China also surged, jumped four spots to fourth – its highest-ever ranking in the index. It measured well in the categories of familiarity, influence, reputation, and business and trade.
“Though China’s performance may be a surprise to some in the Western world, it will have been expected across many developing countries,” the report said. China engaged in what some called “vaccine diplomacy”, helping out nations in south-east Asia and Africa with early millions of doses as well as aid.
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