AUSMIN 2018: What’s In, What’s Out

42876710634_059c36ac7b_k
Source: U.S. Dept. of State Flickr.

In a highly coordinated annual event arranged by civil servants of large bureaucracies with pre-cooked outcomes it is difficult to find surprises in joint statements. They tend to reflect the nature, state of the relationship and hot topics of the day.

In the case of the Australia-United States Ministerial Consultations (AUSMIN), the two-day bilateral meeting with leaders of defense and foreign affairs agencies is focused on strategic, diplomatic and to a lesser extent economic outcomes. While there is an increasing desire to focus on or highlight commercial ties and deliverables, commercial and treasury staff are not engaged at the meeting. (In this relationship, there are not enough problems to resolve, or trade barriers, in the bilateral trade and investment relationship to warrant a formal standalone commercial dialogue or include Commerce as part of AUSMIN. Also, tradition! New things are hard for big government.)

With academics and think tankers leading the charge, topics that continue to come up in Australian media and elsewhere are: the apparent withdrawal of the U.S. from the Pacific and so-called rules-based order and a lean toward Russia. So, naturally, the joint statement allayed fears that the governments’ haven’t been listening, and included language refuting those claims:

  • The Secretaries and Ministers emphasized both nations’ strong and deepening engagement in the Indo-Pacific. They made clear their commitment to work together – and with partners – to shape an Indo-Pacific that is open, inclusive, prosperous, and rules-based.”  

  • “The United States and Australia highlighted the priority each places on supporting an international rules-based order, alongside allies and partners. In the Indo-Pacific, that order has underpinned decades of stability, democracy, and prosperity.”

  • “The two countries reaffirmed their determination to oppose actions that seek to undermine the international rules-based order. Noting the anniversary of the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 on July 17, the principals…expressed full confidence in the findings of the Joint Investigation Team concerning Russia’s role..[and] called on Russia to cooperate fully with efforts to establish accountability….”

 

What is more worrying or telling than what was said, was what was withheld. This included topics that plague the relationship and region.

immigration. Both countries are working through restrictions to immigration and with increasingly louder anti-immigrant constituents. Yet a steady flow of skilled and unskilled workers are essential to both economies, particularly Australia with population ageing. The Trump Administration has praised Australia’s strict immigration standards including for skilled migrants. For irregular migration, in Australia, there is almost no political debate from the major parties on whether to close the offshore detention centre on Nauru and its ‘no advantage’ policy. While a few academics have acknowledged the conflict with “Australian values” it is certainly not discussed widely. And, the Obama refugee resettlement deal still haunts policymakers on both sides.

Iran. We don’t have public access to the workplan that was developed, but surely Iran was discussed at AUSMIN. Prior to the bilateral meetings, Secretary Pompeo delivered a speech titled “Supporting Iranian Voices” in Simi Valley, CA that drew mixed reviews from the diaspora. Australia has room to gain from exports to Iran in agriculture, mining and energy. While there was no joint statement on the recent days’ spats, it is likely that Canberra would stand ready to support the U.S. even if it took any military action.

climate change. What a sad reality. Resilience is the code word for climate change adaptation, but the very denial lessens credibility of both states among Pacific island countries. How can diplomats and commentators say with a straight face that either country is pursuing sustainable infrastructure development (combating China’s funding) without acknowledging the coastal erosion, rising sea levels, drought, increasing frequency and strength of typhoons, etc.? The Green Climate Fund, Global Environment Facility and World Bank and ADB funding mechanisms all understand the depth and complexity of “resilience.”

fisheries or marine protection. Understanding that the Our Oceans conferences were a President Obama/ Secretary Kerry legacy (which Minister Julie Bishop attended), there have been a lot of resources directed toward marine protected areas, fisheries management and ocean acidification. Across the Indo-Pacific there are precious ocean resources that require high-level policy to protect fish stocks and ecosystems. Again, this is an area that Pacific island countries highly value, so joint understanding and action would have given both some Pacific leadership points. In the case of the U.S., the Commerce Department is reviewing its relevant policies and may allow fishing within maritime monuments!

Agile policymaking, including keeping bilateral meetings to minimum staffing, is becoming the norm due to budgeting, past mission creep and corporate influence on government. Then, those of us who analyse foreign policy advocate for more attention and resources for their region or issue. But we should consider that bureaucracies are limited and cannot have an ever-expanding mandate.  

While I’ve highlighted issues that trouble the relationship and region, these are difficult for the U.S.-Australia alliance to work on because they are multi-faceted and have domestic political considerations. To supplement high-level diplomatic conversations, engagements can and do happen regularly at the public staff, civil society and private sector level. Just because they’re difficult, it doesn’t mean we can’t try. And to stay mates, we also don’t have to come to a consensus on every issue. Perhaps a public ‘to do’ list would be a start.

Advertisements

Gender Equality in Australia’s International Development Program

This post is part of a longer research paper.  It was adapted for the Australian and New Zealand Studies Association Conference in Dallas, Texas, on January 31, 2015.

The Australian aid program follows the international convention of pursuing gender equality as part of its core mission using a gender and development framework. But how does this goal align with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s goals of achieving efficiency and investing in women as ‘smart economics’? By examining how Australian aid defines, administers and implements its gender policy, this presentation will assess the organization’s assumptions about gender relations and social transformation in development programs. Australia is committed to gender equality throughout its development policy, but the restructuring of AusAid into DFAT and new strategic directives could have mixed impacts on Australia’s development approach and capacity.

Background: Australian Aid

Between 2013 and 2014 the Liberal Abbott Government restructured the aid agency, launched a new development policy and announced the government’s largest ever multi-year aid cuts (33 per cent) and largest ever single year cuts (20 per cent and $1 billion in 2015-16). AusAID was previously Australia’s autonomous aid agency whose mission was to help people overcome poverty. In 2013 AusAid was integrated into the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, officially to enable the closer alignment of the aid and diplomatic arms of Australia’s international policy agenda and to better serve the interests of Australian taxpayers (Lowy Institute, 2014).

DFAT defines its gender policy over multiple strategy and policy documents, releases and websites. The organization still largely follows concepts from the 2011 document. Notably, DFAT is changing what and how aid is delivered as exemplified in the 2014 policy document. I also examined a paper commissioned by the Office of Development Effectiveness evaluating the Australian government’s support for economic empowerment.

Approaches to Gender and Development

Gender is an essential consideration in development. It provides a way of examining how power structures and social norms impact the lives and opportunities available to men and women. Acknowledging “that men and women, boys and girls experience poverty differently, and face different barriers in accessing services, economic resources and political opportunities” and decision-making “helps to target [development] interventions” (Kangas et al. 2014, 4).

Defining the Gender Policy

As a government agency within a developed country, Australian Aid’s policies must follow norms and trends perpetuated by the (OECD), United Nations and World Bank that it helped to create, such as gender mainstreaming, the gender and development approach and women’s empowerment. First, Australian Aid explicitly follows the GAD approach because it sets out to serve the practical needs and strategic interests of women and girls, men and boys in development programs. Using a GAD approach denotes that the Australian government understands the impacts of power relations between men and women.

Australian Aid emphasizes gender mainstreaming, a standard mechanism in development since 1995. The United Nations explains “Mainstreaming a gender perspective is the process of assessing the implications for women and men of any planned action, including legislation, policies or programs, in all areas and at all levels” (Patel, Fritz, Mehra, Golla, Clancy and Cheney 2014, 21).  In this way allocation of appropriate resources can be tracked and evaluated (Patel et al. 2014, 21).

Also promoted by neoliberal institutions, Australia supports the ‘efficiency approach’ that gender equality and women’s empowerment improves economic productivity (Patel et al. 2014, 18). Termed ‘smart economics,’ it rationalizes investments specifically in women for more effective and efficient development outcomes (Chant and Sweetman 2012, 518). Smart economics champions the neoliberal perspective in seeing business as a vital vehicle for change.

Second, for Australian Aid, gender equality means that men and women should have an equality of access to opportunities. Gender equality is linked not only to human and economic development but also to women’s rights because gender inequality can be a rights violation and impediment to poverty reduction, good health, and safety, among other areas (AusAid 2011a, 1; Patel et al. 2014, 16).

Third, the policy emphasizes that women’s empowerment must be addressed in multiple areas to combat the effects of the unequal distribution of power in gender relations (Patel et al. 2014, 16). Changing dynamics of gender norms and power relations through access to new opportunities contributes to women’s empowerment, but a focus on economic empowerment as the key to ending poverty can place an added burden on women when they are already responsible for both formal and informal labor.

Administering the Policy

Australian Aid targets its policy investments to advance three pillars: “women’s voice in decision-making, leadership, and peace-building, women’s economic empowerment, and ending violence against women and girls” (DFAT 2014, 23). A fourth pillar of “advancing equal access to gender-responsive health and education service” present in the 2011 policy was removed from statements in 2014 (Patel et al. 2014, 16; DFAT 2014, 23). To improve women’s voices and political participation, Australia’s first pillar focuses on capabilities; it aims to build women’s capacity to participate as candidates and voters, as individuals, communities, and at the state level. For example, in Vanuatu, Australian Aid found that it was essential for women to have representation on water management committees, leading to their participation in other forums (AusAid 2011a, 12).  Building women’s capacity to participate in decision-making can increase their agency, which is an essential component of improving gender inequality as seen through the capabilities approach.

The second pillar of Australia’s gender policy is women’s economic empowerment and livelihood security, using a targeted approach where mainstreaming gender considerations alone will not suffice. The organization calls for gender roles and norms for both men and women to be changed in order to succeed (AusAid 2011b, 11). Yet the focus continues to be on providing women with access to credit, encouraging employers to hire women over men, and finding ways to provide alternative care for children and elderly, enabling women to have more employment opportunities.

According to the third pillar, violence against women “is a result of unequal power distribution between women and men, exacerbated by lack of functioning laws, policies, and institutions in place to deal with perpetrators of violence and provide services to survivors” (AusAid 2011a, 15). Therefore Australian Aid seeks to work with men and boys, women and girls, community organizations and legal frameworks to prevent violence against women, and expand counseling services (AusAid 2011a, 15-16).

Women’s capacity to improve society including changing cultural norms is a central theme for Australia’s gender policy. However, the gender policy document does not detail the differing roles for men and women of different classes, ethnicities, sexual orientation or age groups (AusAid 2011a, 4). Using economic efficiency arguments for development projects where women become active producers and consumers in an economy has become more appealing in an age of government austerity and public scrutiny of foreign aid budgets. The consideration of investing in women because it is ‘smart economics’ highlights women as the solution to crises which stem from structural problems. Chant and Sweetman argue that “women are enlisted as foot soldiers to serve in battles whose aims are not related directly to their interests, consigned to the role of ‘conduit for policy’ in the service of others” (Chant and Sweetman 2012, 524). In another respect, efficiency can lead to investments in young women, forgetting about those who will at some point become ‘unproductive.’

Relying on women’s economic empowerment to change cultural norms places a heavy burden on women; for instance, programs must be careful to ensure that women do not face increased violence for their newfound empowerment, as those not selected for programs can become resentful and cause harm. Solidifying women’s rights through legal institutions then becomes increasingly important and can take time to establish progress.

Implementing Gender Policy

Australian Aid has systematic methods for implementing gender policy based on OECD policy markers. Australia participates in and encourages partner countries to join UN human rights conventions such as CEDAW. With fewer funds to work with, Australia’s DFAT is now more critical of programs that do not achieve visible, measurable results. Australian Aid screens all projects using its database AidWorks, and codes them as one of the following: not focused on gender equality; having gender equality as a significant objective; or having gender equality as a principal objective (Swiss 2012; Esplen and Hedman 2014; Patel et al. 2014, 22). These statistics are compiled based on the OECD DAC gender equality marker. Projects that are considered focused on gender equality (principal or significant) accounted for 55 percent of investments from 2010-2011 and 2011-2012. The government aims to have 80 percent of all aid programs address gender (Wroe 2014). In 2007, a Gender Advocate was appointed to promote gender equality and empowerment. In 2011, they appointed an Ambassador for Women and Girls (Patel et al. 2014, 19). While Australia’s development organizations dealt with challenges from institutional restructuring, the changes have made Australian Aid more focused on core goals of gender equality and women’s empowerment.

In changing how aid is delivered, Australian Aid has a new “Value-for-Money” performance framework where 85 percent of investments must achieve effectiveness and efficiency standards using tailored benchmarks for each country or regional program. If programs do not improve within a year they will be cancelled. Targets apply at the strategic level, one of which is empowering women and girls. Moreover, partners such as contractors and nongovernmental organizations, increasingly scrutinized (DFAT 2014, 25-26). In strategy documents, some programs, such as the Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development initiative are explicit that transformation of gender relations will take decades to be resolved. (Parpart et al. 2000, 142).

Implications and Conclusions

Australian Aid’s capacity to implement the gender policy is determined by its approach, independence and external influences. That Australian Aid is no longer an autonomous agency changes its former independent perspective; a greater reliance on public-private partnerships and stimulating private sector development will also provide more power to external influences.

It is clear from the way that Australian Aid defines, administers and implements its gender policy that the organization values gender equality. Further, the 2014 development policy highlights the importance of engaging a gendered approach based on the social, political and economic benefits to communities. As such, the increased focus on gender in Australia Aid’s programs is an encouraging sign. Of the three pillars, Australia appears to prioritize women’s empowerment to participate in the economy, education and leadership because it values the ‘untapped’ economic role of women in development. This new economic focus may, however, have negative implications as part of a bid to secure private sector involvement, pursue measurable gains and provide ‘value for money.’ The transformation of gender norms can be difficult to measure and changes may not correspond with the ideals of DFAT’s Value-for-Money framework. There is also a worrying trend towards individualizing gender issues and reducing them to economic equations.

Bibliography

Australian Agency for International Development (AusAid). Promoting Opportunities for All: Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment. 2011a. [http://aid.dfat.gov.au/Publications/Pages/7174_3886_222_8237_2915.aspx]

Australian Agency for International Development (AusAid). Promoting Economic Opportunities for All: A How to Guide for AusAID Staff on Programming for Women’s Economic Empowerment and Livelihood Security (WEELS). 2011b. [http://aid.dfat.gov.au/aidissues/gender/Documents/promoting-economic-opportunities-for-all.pdf]

Byron, Gabriela and Charlotte Örnemark. Gender Equality in Swedish Development Cooperation: Final Report. Sida Evaluation, 10:1, 2010.

Chant, Sylvia and Caroline Sweetman. “Fixing Women or Fixing the World? ‘Smart Economics’, Efficiency Approaches, and Gender Equality in Development,” Gender & Development 20, no. 3 (2012): 517-529.

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Australian Aid: Promoting Prosperity, Reducing Poverty, Enhancing Stability. Commonwealth of Australia. June 2014. [http://aid.dfat.gov.au/Publications/Pages/australian-aid-promoting-prosperity-increasing-stability-reducing-poverty.aspx]

Esplen, Emily and Jenny Hedman. From Ambition to Results: Delivering on Gender Equality in Donor Institutions. OECD, DAC Network on Gender Equality. May 2014.

Kabeer, Naila. “Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment: A Critical Analysis of the Third Millennium Development Goal 1,” Gender & Development 13, no. 1 (2005): 13-24.

Kangas, A., Haider, H., and Fraser, E. (2014). Gender: Topic Guide. Revised edition with E. Browne. Birmingham: GSDRC, University of Birmingham, UK.

Lowy Institute. “Australian Foreign Aid.” Lowy Institute. 2014 [http://www.lowyinstitute.org/issues/australian-foreign-aid]

Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Sweden. On Equal Footing: Policy for Gender Equality and the Rights and Role of Women in Sweden’s International Development Cooperation 2010-2015. 2010. [www.government.se/content/1/c6/15/22/97/a962c4c8.pdf]

Parpart, Jane, Patricia Connelly and Eudine Barriteau (eds.) “Feminist Theories: Applying WID and GAD,” Theoretical Perspectives on Gender and Development (Ottawa: International Development Research Centre, 2000), pp. 140-147.

Patel, Payal, Katherine Fritz, Rekha Mehra, Anne Golla, Anna Clancy and Helen Cheney. Smart Economics: Evaluation of Australian Aid Support for Women’s Economic Empowerment. Office of Development Effectiveness, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. August 2014.

Swiss, Liam. “The Adoption of Women and Gender as Development Assistance Priorities: an Event History and World Polity Analysis,” International Sociology 27, no. (2011): 96-119.

Wong, Franz. “The Micro-politics of Gender Mainstreaming: the Administration of Policy in Humanitarian Work in Cambodia,” Gender & Development 20, no. 3 (2012): 467-480

Wroe, David. “Cuts to Foreign Aid ‘Another Broken Promise,’” The Age, December 3, 2014. [http://www.theage.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/cuts-to-foreign-aid-another-broken-promise-20141202-11ypou.html]

‘No Advantage’ Policy Creates Nightmares on Manus Island and Nauru

Manus Island Detention Center. Photo Credit: DIAC Images Flickr
Manus Island regional processing center. Photo Credit: DIAC Images Flickr

The Australian Government’s asylum-seeker policy has gone from harsh to incomprehensible. If the center left Labor Party adopted the center right Liberal policy of offshore detention, where will policy turn if the Liberal Party wins the upcoming election? Last month on this blog I questioned Australia’s regional processing and detention center on the small island republic of Nauru; the center has caused political upheaval in a historically tumultuous political environment. This post examines the ‘no advantage’ policy and Australia’s scare tactics to avoid dealing with genuine asylum seekers.

The current asylum-seeker policy of the Gillard Labor Government is composed of recommendations from an expert panel initiated last year. The main recommendation instituted was a ‘no advantage’ policy to deter immigration. The policy provides no advantage for asylum-seekers attempting irregular entry into the country versus those who file an application for asylum in advance. Along with the reinstatement of the Pacific Solution this has led to arbitrary detentions in offshore processing sites with little impact on the number of migrants risking their lives since last August. As a result, the Australian government embarked on an audacious advertising campaign targeting potential refugees, most recently in Afghanistan. However, stemming people-smuggling and preventing irregular migration will not be solved by unilateral actions; Australia’s policies are worsening the plight of asylum-seekers, causing problems for its Pacific Island neighbors, and prohibiting meaningful discussion about why people are moving.

 The ‘no advantage’ policy has led tens of thousands of asylum-seekers to be detained with no way to provide for their families and no hope of their claim for asylum to be met. According to the policy, “There is no advantage or benefit and, indeed, there is no guarantee people who arrive by boat will ever come to Australia.” If caught in and around Australia’s territorial waters, asylum-seekers will be sent to Manus Island, Nauru or Australia’s Christmas Island.

 Just in time for World Refugee Day on June 20, there were signs that Australia would no longer send women and children to Manus Island for processing. Seventy asylum-seekers originally sent to Manus Island will be sent to Christmas Island, along with 40 family members. However, rather than promote a new, more humane policy shift, a spokesman for the immigration minister’s office said “There is no shift in government policy; families remain liable for transfer for regional processing.” This particular action of moving families is likely due to the recent international criticisms of Australia’s tactics and reports that the number of children in detention camps is at its highest level.

 The conditions within detention centers, including the slow pace of (and at times nonexistent) processing, are unfair, unnecessary and exactly what the Australian government wants. In May, the Australian television program SBS Dateline aired an investigation into the center at Manus Island. Journalist Mark Davis confirmed the rumor that because asylum-seekers fear they will be detained forever without the ability to pay debts, provide for their families, or escape the mental torture within the center, they have no hope. Asylum-seekers soon become detainees, and many are continuing to harm themselves and in some cases attempt to commit suicide.

No Advantage Policy Advertisement. Photo Credit: DIAC Images Flickr
No Advantage Policy Advertisement. Photo Credit: DIAC Images Flickr

 To further strengthen the crude policy, the Australian government maintains targeted advertising in the countries that asylum-seekers are desperately fleeing. Recently, the government spent over $555,000 on more television and radio advertisements in Afghanistan. The advertisements focus on the financial and psychological pain of Afghanis whose relatives were caught during their journey and sent to Manus Island. As part of the International Security Assistance Force, Australia has 1,039 of its own troops in Afghanistan. It seems incomprehensible for Australia to be part of a coalition occupying a country and simultaneously advertising warnings to its people that if they attempt to flee to Australia they will likely die or be imprisoned. This discrimination against Afghan refugees is not new, however. In 2010, Australia implemented a processing freeze on asylum-seekers from Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, claiming that conditions were adequate in their own countries. The advertisements aimed at individuals and families in developing, war-torn countries accurately reflects the dire situation that refugees will face if they try to seek asylum in Australia via boat; reinforcing an image of the unjust process, though, is not only failing to achieve results but should be a source of embarrassment for Australia.

 The government of Afghanistan meanwhile claimed it was not consulted about the content of Australia’s anti-asylum-seeker advertisements. An Afghan official stated that “People will look at this ad and say this man failed, but won’t necessarily think it will happen to them.” The advertisements show a lack of engagement with Afghan communities and a lack of regard for issues faced at home by potential asylum-seekers (including those Australia’s role in the occupation of Afghanistan). If both governments were involved, the deterrence advertising could have greater legitimacy, showing the issues of asylum-seekers are serious for both governments. Instead, Australia is working almost unilaterally to deter what government officials and media have repeatedly called ‘illegals’ and ‘boat people’.

 Dr. Khalid Koser predicts that the security situation in Afghanistan will deteriorate in the next two years, leading to inevitably more asylum-seekers heading to Australia by boat. Thus the ‘no advantage’ policy and even opposition leader Tony Abbott’s idea of towing boats back toward Indonesia will be unlikely to stem the flow of asylum-seekers fleeing Afghanistan. Rather, the goals should be to secure Afghanistan, support internal processes such as elections, and encourage international mechanisms for processing and taking care of asylum-seekers before they reach perilous boats.

 The severe problems in Afghanistan are, however, not the only issues leading to an increase in people seeking asylum in Australia. Over the last few years, there has been a spike in asylum-seekers traveling via boat to Australia. Already this year from January to mid-May, almost 9,000 asylum seekers arrived by boat.  Different world events including the global financial crisis, civil wars and other ‘push factors’ led to this increase. In June 2013 alone, at least 55 asylum seekers have drowned with dozens of additional people lost at sea while headed to Australia. The lack of media access to the detention centers in Nauru and Manus Island prohibits discussions about why people are traveling to Australia as well as the conditions they face upon arrival. As the statistics and harrowing stories show, people continue to flee violence and discrimination in Afghanistan, Pakistan and remain undeterred from either the hazardous journey or arbitrary detention.

 Stats

Source: Refugee Council. Phillips, J. & Spinks, H. (2013). Boat arrivals in Australia since 1976. Parliamentary Library, http://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/pubs/BN/2012-2013/BoatArrivals

 The Labor government did not anticipate the record number of arrivals this year and underestimated the cost of maintaining detention centers. This lack of planning led to a budget increase for asylum-seekers but at the expense of other programs within the overseas development aid budget. Arbitrary detention places a financial burden on the Australian taxpayer in addition to the financial and psychological pressure on asylum-seekers (including women and children).

 Unfortunately the current policy has found support among the Australian public. Prior to the Labor Governments’ reinstitution of the Pacific Plan, in July 2012 Essential Research asked “Do you think the Federal Labor Government is too tough or too soft on asylum-seekers or is it taking the right approach?” Respondents indicated the following: 12% answered ‘too tough’, 11% ‘right approach’, while 60% indicated ‘too soft’. Also prior to the policy change, a United Nations Refugee Agency survey asked Australians if boat arrivals make them “more or less sympathetic” towards asylum-seekers; “32% responded ‘much less sympathetic’, only 8% ‘much more sympathetic.’” Finally, an Essential Research poll asked Australians in August 2012 if they supported the reinstitution of offshore asylum-seeker processing in PNG and Nauru; 67% supported, and 18% opposed. While much of the world is facing a prolonged recession, Australia’s economic boom has not made Australians more amenable to asylum-seekers and new immigrants. Rather, Australians have become more guarded.

 

Nauru regional processing facility. Photo Credit: DIAC Images Flickr.
Nauru regional processing facility. Photo Credit: DIAC Images Flickr

On Manus Island in Papua New Guinea and on Nauru, the national governments are trying to honor commitments they made to Australia in their management of offshore processing and detention centers. At the same time, in facilitating the ‘no advantage’ policy, the states are conflicted in their desire to ensure asylum-seekers are protected and treated adequately. Prime Minister O’Neill of PNG has stated that he wants the asylum-seekers on Manus Island to be able to help the community, work, have a normal sense of life” and be able to move around the country. On several occasions Prime Minister O’Neill claims he has promoted this idea to Australia; ultimately, it is up to Australia how asylum-seekers are managed and cared for on the offshore centers, despite how often the Australian officials claim it is up to the local governments.  

Rather than deterring irregular maritime migration to Australia, the ‘no advantage’ policy has put unfair pressure on Nauru and Papua New Guinea and promotes unreasonable treatment of asylum-seekers. As an international process and with scrutiny from the United Nations, Australia’s offshore processing and detention centers should be accessible to journalists who have already helped identify areas where bilateral and international dialogue is lacking. Since the global financial crisis in 2008 and due to increasing violence in the Middle East and parts of Southeast Asia, a record number of asylum-seekers continue to travel via boat toward Australia. Too many continue to drown along the way. For domestic political reasons, there is an overemphasis on the seizure and detention of people in the Asia-Pacific, with not enough regional discussion on push factors or truly regional solutions. Instead of removing protections and supporting arbitrary detention to punish them, Australia should focus on helping to protect vulnerable groups before they are forced to make the journey.

Is the Pacific Solution Australia’s Guantanamo?

With a population of less than 10,000 people and an unemployment rate near 90%, one can assume that Australia’s immigration nightmare of ‘boat people’ and revival of the Pacific Solution has come to Nauru’s rescue, giving the small island nation new life with an economic stimulus. On the contrary, Australia’s attention to Nauru and the re-installment of offshore asylum-seeker processing and detention centers is exploiting the country’s political and economic instability. Once a policy of the right-wing Howard Government, the Pacific Solution has become nonpartisan among the major parties in Australia, with opposition only remaining among a handful in Labor and minor parties such as the Green Party. Deaths of asylum-seekers by sinking ships, the ever-persistent people-smuggling business with war-torn clients and anti-immigrant sentiments among the Australian public have driven the government to an extreme policy measure that was intended to be temporary.

The Pacific Solution creates a legal gray zone in which asylum-seekers are currently deprived of recourse to Australian law and can be detained for upwards of five years. Rather than following recommendations from the United Nations to only utilize offshore facilities as a temporary measure, the Labor Government is establishing new, dangerous precedents by setting its policy of exploitation literally in concrete by building housing to hold upwards of 1,500 asylum-seekers on Nauru alone. The Supreme Court of Nauru has perhaps been the country’s saving grace, with the President and asylum-seekers both turning to the court to solve their problems.

Offshore-processing centers for asylum-seekers were part of the Pacific Solution instituted by the Liberal-National Coalition Government led by Prime Minister John Howard beginning in 2001. This policy was once strongly opposed by Australian Labor Party leaders who rejected the idea that offshore centers, and Nauru in particular, could “stop the people-smugglers’ business model.” In February 2008, the last refugees detained in Nauru under Howard’s plan were sent to Australia and the center closed; at the time, the Labor Government under Prime Minister Kevin Rudd called the Pacific Solution  “a cynical, costly and ultimately unsuccessful exercise introduced on the eve of a Federal election by the Howard Government.” What has changed the situation so that Labor now is unafraid of using Nauru as an offshore-processing and detention center?

One concern voiced by Labor was that Nauru had not acceded to the 1951 UN convention related to refugees and its 1967 protocols. Once Nauru took steps to become party to the convention, the opposition told current Prime Minister Julia Gillard to “swallow her pride” and “pick up the phone to Nauru” instead of making a deal with Malaysia (a state that had also not acceded to the convention).  The ‘Malaysia Solution’ and ‘East Timor Vacation’ are additional stories in themselves – and unlike Nauru those governments were more difficult to sway. 

While trying to craft Labor’s version of the Pacific Solution in 2010, Gillard advocated for using East Timor as an offshore-processing center for asylum-seekers. However, the government of East Timor eventually opposed the plan and passed a unanimous resolution rejecting the proposal. East Timor Member of Parliament Jose Teixeira illustrated the difficulties with using Pacific Island nations as Australia’s own penal colonies. Teixeira said “it’s an unfair burden to put on us as an emerging society, post-conflict, as a society that has a number of social and economic pressures on it. It’s unfair to put that additional pressure” on East Timor.

The same can be said for Nauru, a small island country that has experienced political turmoil over the last two decades. Political power struggles have not been overly violent or utilized a coup d’état, in part because Australia is responsible for Nauru’s defense (meaning Nauru does not maintain defense forces).  Nauru’s political troubles have continued this year. Parliament has not held a regular meeting since early February due to the resignation of two cabinet ministers that caused the government to lose its majority.  President Sprent Dabwido attempted for weeks to dissolve Parliament, but Speaker Godfrey Thoma and the lack of quorum in Parliament stood in his way.

In addition to defense protection, Australia provides development aid to Nauru budgeted at AUD$31.8 million for 2012/13. Opponents of the offshore center argue that at a time of shrinking government budgets, Australia cannot afford to dump funds into these new ‘development projects’ where taxpayer return will be minimal. Over the past four years, “Effective Governance” has been a top goal of development funding and currently around 60% of the total budget . While I do not doubt the overall transparency of AusAID and the commitment of development practitioners, the historically higher level of funding to governance compared to “Sustainable Economic Development” and “Promoting Opportunities for All” are a pathway for the Australian government to have demonstrable influence over Nauru’s political process; this influence allowed for the reopening of offshore-processing center and creation of a permanent mass detention center complex that has impacted the country’s political and economic outlook.

Other changes on the horizon may soon be driven by the Supreme Court in Nauru. The Supreme Court will decide both the political fate of Nauru’s government as well as the fate of asylum-seekers. With many resignations, votes of no confidence and changes of administration over the last two decades, Nauru is lucky to have a functioning Supreme Court that can help facilitate the country’s constitution. To be able to dissolve Parliament and have fresh elections, President Dabwido is considering taking legal action through the Supreme Court; this application to the Supreme Court is likely to take place over the next week. As recently as May 3, Parliament failed to reach a quorum for the fourth consecutive time, continuing to give the president reason to utilize the Supreme Court.

A landmark Supreme Court case involving asylum-seekers set for June includes an application of habeas corpus. Australian barrister Jay Williams and retired US Marine Corps lawyer Michael Mori are part of a “legal dream team formed to challenge the legality of the Nauru detention center.” Mori formerly represented Australian Guantanamo Bay detainee David Hicks. The team of lawyers are representing the ten detained asylum-seekers facing charges of rioting and willful damage. Williams has been facing a challenge of his own – lack of access to the defendants to prepare an adequate case – which is an infringement of the defendants’ constitutional rights. As a constitutional challenge this ruling could have strong repercussions for Australia’s offshore-processing and detention center.

While Nauru’s government shows signs that they are unable to maintain stability, Nauru additionally lacks significant infrastructure to adequately handle the additional burden of providing for a future thousand-plus residents. The construction efforts for the detention center on Nauru attest to the longevity of the Pacific Solution and the creation of an island full of detainees similar to the US facilities at Guantanamo Bay. Underground cables have been installed for electricity, and water and sewage hook-ups have been difficult among the phosphate field. Additionally, Nauru lacks a modern port; to ship prefabricated accommodation blocks into Nauru, a “causeway of rock and gravel was constructed…and had to be repaired daily.”

While considering the damage that these events are doing to Australia’s regional and international image, the Labor government is pressing onward with development of the offshore-processing and detention center in Nauru. Currently there are more than four hundred asylum-seekers on Nauru, who have now been moved into part of the permanent detention center facilities. One journalist describes the new facilities in Nauru: “unlike the flimsy weatherboard huts used in the first iteration of the Pacific Solution under the Howard government, the new buildings are built to last.” To accommodate 1,500 detainees in a detention camp, there will be a total of ten accommodation blocks costing the Australian government more than AUD$70 million to construct. According to a report, the “initial stage of the project is a twin-storey accommodation centre of about 1000sq m, containing 44 rooms grouped in three pods, connected by covered breezeways. For now, asylum-seekers will sleep two to a room of 4m x 3.5m.”  These new facilities were likely built in response to criticism from the international community and nongovernmental organizations about poor conditions being faced by refugees as well as the impact on local communities.

In December 2012, observers from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) released a scathing report on the facilities and processing operations at Nauru. UNHCR representatives expressed the “need for more information and clarity for asylum-seekers about their situation, and counseling on the procedures and time frames of various steps in line with international standards.” The report also stressed that asylum-seekers should be supplied with “adequate conditions of accommodation, and the legal framework, rules and procedures for processing of transferred asylum-seekers in Nauru should be completed as a matter of urgency.” Having risked their lives on a treacherous journey by boat, asylum-seekers being sent to Nauru and Manus Island detention centers are particularly vulnerable. While they are not being placed in a war zone in Nauru, Australia should not send asylum-seekers, especially when they may have mental, physical and economic problems, into a detention center for an undetermined period without adequate legal and medical provisions.

Despite Australia’s move to improve facilities on Nauru, the most glaring problem remains; asylum seekers will be held in a legal gray zone outside of Australia’s borders and outside of the protections of Australian law. Further, off-shoring asylum-seeker processing serves to restrict journalistic access and the flow of public information to the public. These issues are the crux of the UNHCR insistence that “all asylum-seekers arriving by boat into Australian territory [should] be processed in Australia, consistent with general practice.”Add to this Australia’s dubious political and economic pressures and incentives that the government is applying liberally in order to secure the island as their national penal colony. Australia has the option to use its economic and strategic clout in the Pacific in order to benefit the region and promote humanitarian aims. Taking advantage of the economic woes and political instability in Nauru through the perpetuation and expansion of the Pacific Solution is undermining Australia’s standing among its Pacific island neighbors and in the international community.

The Change Women Need: Australia and New Zealand Celebrate International Women’s Day in DC

Hon Julie Collins MP from Australia at the Embassy of Australia in Washington, DC.Photo Credit: Genevieve Neilson
Hon Julie Collins MP of Australia at the Embassy of Australia in Washington, DC.
Photo Credit: Genevieve Neilson

On International Women’s Day and at the start of Women’s History Month, many national governments, companies and civil society organizations reaffirmed their commitment to women’s issues such as equal pay for equal work, ending violence against women and children, and enabling women in leadership positions. On March 7, the Embassy of Australia hosted a reception with Hon Jo Goodhew MP , Women’s Affairs Minister of New Zealand and Hon Julie Collins MP, Minister for the Status of Women of Australia. Both Goodhew and Collins praised the progress that has been made for economic and political rights of women in their respective countries and suggested that more can still be done, particularly to end violence against women.

Can the rest of the world learn from Australia and New Zealand regarding the role of women in society and politics? The US discourse has, particularly recently, focused on the work and home life balance of women executives in government and high profile companies. Anne-Marie Slaughter, Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Mayer supply their own versions of how women can ‘have it all’ in pressurized workplaces; however, their situations are not necessarily applicable to most women whether they are in North America or the Asia-Pacific. In Australia and New Zealand women are strongly encouraged to pursue tertiary education in a more egalitarian setting. The gender gap is shrinking for all ethnicities (but at different rates), programs to reduce violence against women are nonpartisan and promoted cohesively nationwide; furthermore, women’s suffrage movements and women in politics have helped to shape national identities.

Recent research by the NZIER found that particularly for younger women and compared to those in other countries, “women in New Zealand are more able, and more likely, to be economically independent today than at any time over the last 30 years.” Women are now more likely than men to obtain tertiary education. While the average earning capacity of women is much less than that of men, according to the report the gap between average pay “is likely to close.”  Rather than focusing on closing the pay gap, then, policy is moving in the direction of examining factors of women’s economic independence such as attitudes toward if and when to have children, preferred approaches to taking care of children, and “drivers of some women’s decisions to end their education without achieving qualifications and in some cases to have children.” Women are making greater strides toward economic equality, and framing progress for women is becoming more complex.

Hon Jo Goodhew MP of New Zealand at the Embassy of Australia in Washington, DC.Photo Credit: Genevieve Neilson
Hon Jo Goodhew MP of New Zealand at the Embassy of Australia in Washington, DC.
Photo Credit: Genevieve Neilson

While on Thursday evening both Goodhew and Collins agreed that economic equality remains a significant issue, the continued prevalence of violence against women and children and high profile cases of violence spurred government policy in this area. Too many women experience violence at the hands of governments, military and at home from partners and family members.  Led by Julia Gillard’s Labor government, the 12-year National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and Their Children establishes a way for all service systems in Australia to come together for “common goals of preventing violence, delivering justice for victims and improving services.”

In New Zealand the Families Commission and Ministry of Social Development (along with local nongovernmental organizations and individuals) support the global initiative White Ribbon Campaign. The Campaign remains the most widespread program promoting involvement by men to end violence towards women. According to the Campaign, in New Zealand one in three women experience “violence from a partner in their lifetime, while on average, fourteen women are killed each year by a member of their own family.” A response to the case of the murdered Kahui twins, turning a blind eye to domestic violence is now unacceptable with the passage of the Crimes Amendment Act (No3). Individuals and nongovernment organizations can take steps to mitigate violence against women and children; ultimately in a democracy elected officials and bureaucrats are empowered by citizens to facilitate progress through legislation and public programs.

New Zealand was the first independent country to allow women the right to vote in 1893, but achieving political and economic equality in the face of stereotyping and other constraints has still been difficult. New Zealand History Online provides a remarkable glimpse of how women were viewed for the first time as voters:

Suffrage opponents had warned that delicate ‘lady voters’ would be jostled and harassed in polling booths by ‘boorish and half-drunken men’, but in fact the 1893 election was described as the ‘best-conducted and most orderly’ ever held. According to a Christchurch newspaper, the streets ‘resembled a gay garden party’ – ‘the pretty dresses of the ladies and their smiling faces lighted up the polling booths most wonderfully’.

Fast forwarding to contemporary times, Australia and New Zealand have both broken gender barriers in national politics. Australia’s current Prime Minister, Hon Julia Gillard is the first female Prime Minister and head of the Labor Party of Australia; as an atheist, childless woman that has never been married (she has a long-term male partner), it is difficult to imagine a woman with such personal characteristics as an elected public leader in the US.  New Zealand’s first female Prime Minister and only female head of the National Party was Jenny Shipley who served from 1997 to 1999; Helen Clark was the first and only woman elected as Prime Minister in the national election and served from 1999 to 2008. As the first woman to be Administrator for the United Nations Development Program, Clark supports women’s interests globally through UNDP programs. Simply having females in political leadership roles helps to shape national opinion and create a more reflective environment as successive generations pursue such positions.

 Initiatives such as the White Ribbon Campaign that try to put men in women’s shoes and gain understanding help facilitate public policymaking and public awareness to end violence against women. Feminist movements and women leaders in Australia and New Zealand have helped correct tendencies of domestic and international political and economic environments “to see only men and masculinities.” If more government programs are instituted with the long-term thinking of Australia’s National Plan and reactive laws such as New Zealand’s Crimes Amendment Act (No3) can institute new social norms against violence, women will have a strong chance at closing more than the economic gap.

Australia’s National Security Strategy: Opportunity is What Labor Makes of It

“To focus only on dangers in the world would be to neglect the opportunities to improve our security environment and shape our strategic landscape. It is as important to seize these opportunities as it is to address threats.” (Commonwealth of Australia, 2013)

Australia’s first National Security Strategy (NSS) was launched on January 23, 2013, just a week before the Labor government announced the next election date. As a follow-up to the 2008 National Security Statement, the NSS cohesively lays out Australia’s national security objectives, risks, outlook and priorities.  A critical part of the strategy is describing Australia’s vision for security, including the “Pillars of Australia’s National Security.” While the document reminds us that the international political environment is in a stage of transition due to the rise of China and India, American ‘rebalancing’ to the Asia-Pacific, resource constraints and technological developments, it paints a rosy picture of the security landscape as something that Australia can – with the help of the United States – tackle; Prime Minister Gillard herself seems to be saying: no worries, mate, we’ve got this.  Rather than putting Australia on alert to mitigate current and imminent threats, the NSS much like the Australia in the Asian Century White Paper emphasizes opportunities that benefit national and regional interests.

Why does Australia need a National Security Strategy?

Australia’s foreign and defense policies depend upon the state’s identities and interests which are amenable to change. While the NSS took seemingly years to plan, it was launched at an appropriate time for Australia’s continued preeminence on the international stage. The NSS provides another avenue for Australia to proclaim that it is a responsible “liberal democracy with deeply held values” and to reinforce the state’s belief in shared laws and norms to organize international society. (p. 3) With the United States ‘rebalancing’ to Asia, including (but not limited to) the American military rotation in Darwin, Australia is arguably more critical than ever for the US in the Asia-Pacific. In contrast to America’s heavy usage of the word, the Australia NSS only mentions freedom once (on page 1) to describe the Australian “way of life.” Furthermore, Australia’s trade and development relationships with regional neighbors provide greater strength to the US as well as a platform for Australia’s interests.

Relatively unscathed by the global recession, Australia must deal with overall market volatility and the effects of resource scarcity. Australian living standards are high, the economy continues to expand, and New Zealanders continue to flock across the ditch to help meet labor shortages; financial success has been due largely to the mining industry boom led by the growth of China and industrialization of other developing countries in Asia and South America. It is discernible then that for Australia economic wellbeing and security are tightly linked. International interdependence through bilateral and multilateral trade and defense arrangements necessitated overlapping policies that seek both peace and prosperity. One aspect sorely lacking from the NSS, however, was a comprehensive section concerning water security given its severity in Australia and increasing significance in Asia.

Pillars of national security

With the release of the Australia in the Asian Century White Paper, restart of the Pacific Solution, and success of the Pacific Seasonal Worker Pilot Scheme among other policy moves, the Labor-led government is attempting to redefine the state’s role in Oceania as well as the Asia-Pacific. In fact, a significant and surprising pillar of national security is “understanding and being influential in the world, particularly the Asia-Pacific.” (p. 12) Deterring traditional security threats such as terrorism, attacks and organized crime align with pillars of maintaining border integrity, securing and strengthening resilience of Australia and the international environment.

According to the NSS, the US “remains an important anchor for peace and security in [the] region.” (p. 20) For American policymakers, the US is the most important anchor for peace and security in the region, and Australia helps to facilitate that role; the alliance allows for sharing of intelligence and defense technology, joint military exercises, regular dialogue particularly through AUSMIN and cooperative diplomatic efforts.

Prioritizing cooperation to meet national security needs

The NSS promotes a proactive and constructive approach to national security. The word opportunity was mentioned 32 times, and cooperation 36 times. Each section seemingly provided a glimpse of Australia’s desire to collaborate with the US and to strengthen regional organizations such as the East Asia Summit, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation and the Pacific Islands Forum. As an illustration of regional dynamics and a comparison of the opportunities and existing partnerships, in the NSS the United States was mentioned 31 times and China 26 times. An assessment of Australia’s national security outlook delivers priorities that are consistent with the state as an emerging player in international affairs and a liberal democracy.

 The NSS identified the following three priorities over the next five years:

  • Enhanced regional engagement in support of security and prosperity in the Asian Century.
  • Integrated cyber policy and operations to enhance the defence of our digital networks.
  • Effective partnerships to achieve innovative and efficient national security outcomes.

The first and third priorities may appear to be duplicates as they utilize cooperation to secure Australia. However both bilateral and domestic partnerships and regional engagements play important roles depending upon the issue at hand. The NSS strongly advocates for improved cooperation among Australian government departments for pressing problems such as border security. Information-sharing is critical between departments and among governments in facing cyber security challenges.

While there were no specific opportunities identified in the “National Security Opportunities” section in the same way as threats and priorities were listed, the idea was reiterated throughout the National Security Strategy.  Rather, threats create opportunities for domestic collaboration among government departments and international collaboration among states to solve and mitigate challenges. With strong partnerships with neighbors Indonesia and New Zealand, and close ally the United States, Australia will not have to ‘drink with the flies’ (go it alone) when developing regional or global initiatives.   

Despite an overall positive tone that sees Australia shaping the region for the good of national and regional security, the section entitled “Deterring and defeating attacks on Australia and Australia’s interests” was fuel for criticism of Australia’s shrinking defense budget. The NSS acknowledged that because conflict could eventually break out in the Indo-Pacific region, it is necessary

“that we maintain the capacity to protect Australia’s sovereignty, assets, infrastructure and institutions from conventional armed attack, and to contribute to international security efforts where appropriate. The ADF is an essential part of our approach. Maintaining credible high-end capabilities enables us to act decisively when required, and deter would-be adversaries.”

To boast about high-end capabilities, a well-maintained ADF and to continue to pursue interoperability efforts, Australia should not be pursuing defense policies that worry its closest defense ally, the United States. During the launch of the NSS, Gillard misquoted Australian defense spending per capita and stated that Australia was second only to the United States; later the official website amended Gillard’s national security speech to compare Australia among G-7 countries and China, a significant difference. Nonetheless, Australia’s defense spending as a percentage of GDP is ranked 50th in the world.

For domestic security issues and regionally stability it makes sense for Australia to focus more efforts on aid programs and peacekeeping operations. The NSS cites operations in the Solomon Islands and Timor-Leste as Pacific successes and missions in Afghanistan and Iraq as examples of extra-regional cooperation. With the “long-term shift in global economic weight from west to east,” (p. 7) resource scarcity and the effects of climate change will, in Australia’s view, create new opportunities as the country adapts to new risks and scenarios.

This year marks the twentieth anniversary of the Bali Process; the initiative combating people smuggling and managing irregular migration is no less relevant today as the Labor government continues to grapple with incoming ‘boat people’. As the cyber-security scene evolves and related agencies consolidate, Australia’s capabilities in this area will become a feature more interesting to the United States and New Zealand. By recognizing that the state’s national security interests will not necessarily lead to conflict but in fact provide opportunities for cooperation, Australia is conveying a welcome message in its first National Security Strategy. The state’s approach “reflects who we are and where we have come from” and hopefully represents the future of international relations. (p. 3)

Australia Plans for Sustainable, Collective Security in the “Asian Century”

Sydney, Australia
Sydney, Australia. Photo credit: Genevieve Neilson

In October, the Australian Government released its much-anticipated white paper entitled Australia in the Asian Century.  A collaborative work with public input and stakeholder engagement, the white paper aims to describe the rise of Asia and offers a strategic framework to guide Australia through the ‘Asian Century’ (or least as far as 2025). While much of the paper focuses largely on prospects for improving economic gains, education and cultural ties, I will examine the lone chapter on security entitled “Building sustainable security in the region.”  Australia takes a refreshingly broad view of security which includes traditional as well as nontraditional threats to collective, national and human security.  From the outset, the white paper demonstrates the Australian government’s commitment to focus on more than just hard power, seeking collaborative solutions and understanding the interconnectedness of regional and national issues.  As a public document, the white paper is a way for Australia to clarify its position on the rise of China and India, the increasing competition for natural resources, and the strategic rebalancing of the US in Asia.  

 By taking a comprehensive approach to security, Canberra seeks to mitigate new challenges brought on by the rise of Asia including competition over resources, military modernization by China, India and other middle powers of Asia, and empowerment of non-state actors. The significant focus devoted to transnational threats such as territorial disputes, weapons proliferation as well as human trafficking, terrorism, water and food security, energy security and the effects of climate change shows the importance of regional issues to Australia over domestic security concerns.  Indeed, Australia imparts its knowledge from encounters with water scarcity and resource management, trafficking, irregular migration and terrorism, to assist its neighbors in Asia.  The South Pacific, much like other parts of the Asia-Pacific region, will be at the forefront of effects of climate change; Australia has already worked with Pacific Island states to provide funding for environmental and sustainable development projects.

 The government’s most common answer to current and future threats is international cooperation through a rules-based order.  The primary foreign policy goals established by the white paper include: supporting regional security mechanisms, including equal participation of China and the US in international institutions; and broadening and deepening bilateral relationships.  According to the white paper, “Australia’s longstanding commitment to active middle-power diplomacy, with its focus on practical problem solving, effective implementation and building coalitions with others, will continue to drive [the country’s] approach.” 

 As a newly-elected non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council from 2013, Australia’s commitment to regional issues and a collective approach cannot be overstated.  In congruence with statements from US officials, Australia welcomes a rising China and hopes it will participate more fully in international institutions.  At the same time, Australia lobbied for the US and Russia to join the East Asia Summit, and sees the EAS as a “critical regional institution.”  The November meeting in Cambodia is likely to be a further launching pad for Australia’s goals.  Additionally, the white paper mentions Australia’s strong support of India’s desire for international engagement, particularly with Australia as a future chair of the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation in 2014-15 and the country’s participation in the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium.

 Finally, Australia’s aid program is a central way that the country supports human development and human security in Asia. In 2010, 58 percent of Australia’s “aid budget was expended in Asia, the second-highest proportion among all OECD Development Assistance Committee donors, after South Korea.”  With a booming economy that relies increasingly on the purchasing power of the burgeoning middle classes and construction and energy projects throughout Asia, Australia has the financial stability to promote human security projects that also build bilateral trust.  In 2010, Australia signed a 5-year agreement with the International Labor Organization to support programs that “promote sustainable development and fair work, such as improving conditions for factory workers in the garment industry in several Southeast Asian countries.”  With a proclaimed high level of transparency, the Australian government aims to be the world leader in aid effectiveness.  East Asia and the Pacific are Australia’s primary aid focus, and over the next four years Australia plans to become the largest bilateral grant donor to East Asia by increasing assistance by around 48 percent (from $1.32b in 2012-13 to $1.95 by 2015-16).  Australia has as much to gain as China or the US in supporting such development projects; building relationships and supporting developing countries improves Australia’s soft power and the purchasing of Australian goods and services.

 Geopolitical changes and economic advancement in Asia are driving global attention to the region.  Before this white paper was launched, however, Australians had already begun their ‘engagement’ with Asia; former Labor Prime Minister Paul Keating even wrote a book on the subject.  With the US ‘rebalancing’ to the Pacific, and all eyes on China during their November leadership transition, Australia appears to be towing the line of both powers to promote a sustainable and prosperous Asia-Pacific.  With improved communication technologies bringing their populations closer than ever before, the collective approach by Australia that seeks improvements in economic and security relationships, cultural exchanges, and protection of human security in more ways than one “Australia is located in the right place at the right time.”