Diplomat Richard Butler, also a former chief UN weapons inspector in Iraq, lashed out at the government for what he said was picking and choosing when seeking UN support according to its needs.
Butler, in a television interview, said Australia's participation in the US-led coalition in Iraq had undermined the integrity of international law.
His attack followed a speech by Foreign Minister Alexander Downer on Thursday in which he said Australia preferred "building coalitions of the willing" instead of opting for “ineffectual multilateralism and outmoded belief in sovereignty”.
Explaining the decision to send security forces to the conflict-riven Solomon Islands Downer said Australia could have gone to the UN Security Council, but had opted instead to put together a coalition of the willing to do the job.
He described the UN as a behemoth and said it was terribly hard to get 150 countries to agree to anything. Downer raised the prospect of more coalitions of the willing, the term the United States applied to its Iraq war partners, including Australia.
Butler described Downer’s stand as an “ipso facto justification” which constituted an extraordinary attack by the Australian government on the UN and that was very serious.
Butler agreed the UN needed reform in certain departments, but said Downer's statements were the clearest indication yet of where the government was headed in international relations in the future. "Downer's double-standard here is simply breath-taking," he said.
Downer countered Butler's attack as an immature over-reaction. "What I'm saying is let us not blind faith that the UN can fix all problems. It can't," he said.