For an independent foreign policy that contributes to a safer world

As a ‘middle power’ situated in the Asia-Pacific region, Australia could play a significant role to promote and work for peace and international cooperation to address the many crises, inequalities and injustices that confront the global community.

As a ‘middle power’ situated in the Asia-Pacific region, Australia could play a significant role to promote and work for peace and international cooperation to address the many crises, inequalities and injustices that confront the global community.

Australia could best play that role with an independent and non-aligned foreign policy based on key principles and values, including:

  • Recognition that climate change and other ecological disasters threaten all humanity and require urgent, large-scale cooperation to preserve rather than destroy our common home.
  • An end to the arms race and militarisation, with major steps towards disarmament, especially eliminating weapons of mass destruction.
  • The peaceful resolution of disputes through agreed international and multilateral institutions.
  • Respect for democracy, human rights and the right of all nations to self-determination.
  • Opposition to great power domination, ‘spheres of influence’, and the use or threat of military invasions and other forms of violence and coercion to enforce these.
  • A generous foreign aid program that delivers effectively and efficiently to those who need it most.
  • Solidarity with peoples and movements struggling for self-determination and for the above principles and rights in their own societies.
  • Fair trade and investment agreements based on respect for local conditions and fair regulatory standards, decided through democratically accountable processes. World Trade Organisation intellectual property rules must be suspended during global pandemics such as COVID-19, to ensure vaccines and treatments for all.

Many major issues that face all nations are global, such as climate change and biodiversity loss, food and energy security, treatment of refugees, peace and disarmament. There is no path to separate security or peace, only joint global action to address and resolve the problems.

An independent, non-aligned and peaceful foreign policy would best serve the interests of Australians, our immediate region and the world, rather than lining up with former imperial and colonial powers through arrangements such as AUKUS.

Cuts to funding for overseas aid, and an over-reliance on aid programs that do not build capacity in local communities, often serve the interests of wealthy and powerful elites rather than the people they are meant to serve, and can be counter-productive.

Similarly counter-productive are trade policies and trade agreements that give priority to the flow of goods, services, investment and finance at the expense of local development, protection of the environment, and human rights.

Foreign Affairs and Defence

Mainstream political debate on ‘foreign affairs and defence’ is too often held on narrow terrain, dominated by claims of ‘external threats’. It is dominated by a small, self-appointed cabal of ‘defence and foreign affairs experts’ in government, universities and right-wing think tanks. The conservatives also jump at any chance to turn the debate into a ‘khaki election’ where they can wrap themselves in the flag, and claim the mantle of ‘patriot’, that ‘last refuge of a scoundrel’.

Left and progressive forces have a proud record in providing alternative voices on peace and international solidarity, often proved correct such as in opposing the wars in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq, and must continue efforts to democratise debate on foreign policy, trade and international relations.

Many issues that drive Australia’s domestic debate are actually international or transnational. None more so than climate change, as well as issues around the pandemic, refugees and immigration, trade, and economic security. Addressing and resolving those issues requires international partnerships, engagement and solidarity.

Climate change is a prime example. Action by Australia to limit emissions, both here and created by our fossil-fuel exports, would make an important contribution and prove our credentials.

An independent and peaceful Australia, with solidarity as a core value, can play a genuinely helpful role in addressing these global issues. But it will take a major push from grassroots activists inside and outside parties, parliaments and governments to change the narrow focus of Australian foreign affairs from dependence on the US alliance, AUKUS, ‘the Quad’, etc, to a broader independent role as a ‘global citizen’.

Aid and development assistance

Cuts to foreign aid, and aid that serves the interests of Australian companies rather than local communities, have been a hallmark of the last decade of Coalition government.

After repeated cuts and freezes, the level of overseas development aid (ODA) as a proportion of government expenditure fell from 1.32 per cent in 2012–13 (and a high of 2.43 per cent in 1971–72) to 0.62 per cent in 2020–21. As of 2020, Australia ranks 21st among 29 OECD member countries on this measure.  AidWatch, Australia’s only independent aid monitoring group, says: ‘Since the closure of AusAID in 2013, Australian aid has been increasingly directed towards national interests and private finance over developing countries’ humanitarian and development needs for real aid.’

The record low levels of aid, and its misdirection into private finance, has trashed our international reputation and cruelled Australia’s ability to negotiate in good faith for climate action. In particular, our Pacific Island neighbours have grown angrier over our aid failures and climate-change inaction.

(This article is part of the SEARCH Activists Guide to the 2022 Election. You can download the entire guide by clicking here.)

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