The Pacific Agency Australian Prime Minister Morrison Didn’t Visit in the Solomon Islands

Compliance Officers in March inspecting Chinese longline vessels in Avatiu Harbour before MMR issued licences to fish in the CI EEZ. Source: Pacific Islands Tuna Industry Association.

Headquartered in Honiara, Solomon Islands, the Forum Fisheries Agency is one of the most important advisory bodies in the Pacific islands. This year, it’s marking 40 years of facilitating regional cooperation and providing technical assistance for offshore fisheries management, especially around highly valuable tuna stocks (which are on track to return $1b to the region). Although Honiara is Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s first overseas destination since being re-elected in May 2019, meeting with the Forum Fisheries Agency is unfortunately not on his agenda. Instead he is focused on a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavar and broadcasting a reshaped aid budget with more than $250 million for infrastructure.

The June 2-3 trip is timed essentially a stopover to international meetings in London and Singapore. Reports claim that he is motivated by growing Chinese influence in the region, including its desire to persuade the Solomon Islands to break its relationship with Taiwan. But, Australia has a complicated relationship with the Solomon Islands (namely stemming from its role in security operations, RAMSI), its Prime Minister is also newly re-elected (as of April 2019), and it is the headquarters of the Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA). A visit with the FFA is important for PM Morrison’s understanding to gain firsthand insights and would demonstrate Australia’s commitment to the vital organisation and regional partnership without needing to make any new agreements.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison tweeted about ‘showing up’ in the Pacific islands for a bilateral meeting.

Why should Australia care about the Forum Fisheries Agency?
Australia is both a member of the FFA and significant benefactor.

Along with New Zealand, Australia is a “metropolitan member” that provides foundational support to FFA’s operations. Through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Australia annually provides more than AUD $5 million in financial support to the FFA, and separate funding is also dedicated to combating illegal fishing (via implementation of the Niue Treaty Subsidiary Agreement).

In 2018, Australia committed to a new 10-year partnership and related funding agreements with the FFA. New Australian Defence funding targets efforts to combat Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing and enhances overall regional security through Maritime Domain Awareness. Around AUD $15 million annually provides the 15 FFA island member nations with 1,400 hours of additional aerial surveillance with two dedicated King Air aircraft. This is on top of the 300 hours of aerial surveillance already provided annually during four regional operations.

At the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency, FFA, Ewen McDonald met with Commander Jeffrey Williams, RAN, Surveillance Operations Officer, for a tour of the Regional Fisheries Surveillance Centre. Source: Australian High Commission Facebook.

Australia also benefits from its membership in FFA through policy advocacy, influencing industry standards, and specific services. Last year, for example, the FFA provided the following services to Australia: responded to queries on IUU fishing estimates; liaison with regard to support for the Office of the Pacific Ocean Commissioner (OPOC); Secretariat of the Pacific Tuna Long line policy; and Development and implementation of the employment standard (NZ-IEEB).

The Forum Fisheries Agency has several key priorities this year, including advancing a new Regional Longline Strategy, identifying actions around climate change to support thriving tuna fisheries, pushing for a harvest strategy approach at international discussions, and enhancing advocacy for the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission meeting in December. Offshore fisheries are impacted by climate change, particularly the location and distribution of tuna. Recent achievements include a new draft strategic plan to start in 2020 that will likely be approved at next month’s ministers meeting, and strengthened regional harmonised requirements for fishing licenses to stem ‘slavery at sea.’

For its part, according to FFA Director General Dr. Manu-Tupou-Roosen, “Solomon Islands is leading the way in the management of longline fisheries and in particular with implementation of the Longline Vessel Day Scheme and the use of electronic monitoring.” One of Prime Minister Sogavare’s first meetings since his election was with the FFA Director General, so perhaps at the bilateral meeting, he can brief Prime Minister Morrison on pressing topics in fisheries, while the media coverage remains focused on infrastructure.


Still, partnerships and meetings with high-level officials are key to successful regional collaboration, leaving PM Morrison’s visit a lost opportunity. As FFA Director General Dr. Tupou-Roosen stated at the end of an FFA meeting earlier this year, “We work to ensure our people enjoy social and economic benefits from a sustainably managed offshore tuna resource and this wouldn’t be possible without key partnerships.” Australia has provided the funding and technical resources for this key agency, but the political weight is missing.

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Lunar New Year Yum Cha: 2018 Leftovers for Australia

Lunar New Year installation in Sydney, NSW. Photo by G Neilson

As opposition leader in 1971, Gough Whitlam made a risky move to visit Peking (just a few days before Henry Kissinger), and once he subsequently became Prime Minister made Australia an early partner with China. In contrast, under the leadership of Prime Minister Robert Menzies, former External Affairs Minister Paul Hasluck used to repeat the prhase, “At the end of the road, there is always China,” to warn about the threat of Communism. The extensive cultural and political relationship that has developed continues to shape both the good and bad sides of domestic politics in Australia.

China’s decades-long rise across economic, political and strategic dimensions hit a turning point in 2018 in the Asia-Pacific. In 2017, Western political presence in and commitment to the Pacific began to pick up its pace in light of China’s perceived expanded presence. Over the course of my first full year living in Australia, this tension came to the forefront. Specifically, Australian leaders have tried to balance the drive for foreign investment and celebration of culture with avoiding overt political influence and over-reliance on a single trading partner.

With February 2019 marking the start of the Lunar New Year, in this post, I take a look back at several key 2018 events by the numbers that have dragged into 2019. The bite-sized dishes (like yum cha) are served up in categories of the environment, governance, international trade, economy, and security. Many (but not all) of these events were influenced by China.

ENVIRONMENT

1.3 million tonnes of waste materials no longer sent from Australia to China.

  • In late 2017, we heard about China’s “ban” on foreign waste that took full effect in early 2018, for 24 categories of solid waste that centred on recycling. In the short term, there was a crisis in local councils, increase in costs, and much of the waste may have gone to landfill; state governments still are not openly addressing the challenge of current recycling waste. Yet China’s “ban” presented an opportunity for Australians to thoughtfully consider their consumption habits and the amount of plastics they consume (such as bags, packaging or bottles), and for companies to employ new practices. The ABC ran a second season of its popular series War on Waste to challenge public and business perspectives, major retailers and states banned single-use plastic bags (with much media frenzy), and a movement to ban plastic straws picked up steam. This all led to development of the 2018 National Waste Policy which sets out to reduce Australians’ waste by 2030.  
  • While Australians have cut down on some plastic waste (see next point below), the need for a circular economy continues to go unanswered. States and territories have differing regulations but there are calls for unity as recycling domestically helps create more jobs than exporting the problem.

1.5 billion fewer plastic bags were consumed over 3 months in Australia thanks to a ban by major supermarket retailers Coles and Woolworths.

  • By charging 15 cents per bag instead of giving them away for free, Coles and Woolworths have experienced an 80 percent reduction in their usage. As of 1 July 2018, Queensland and Western Australia banned single-use, lightweight plastic bags from major retailers. All states and territories have now phased out the bags, except in the two largest states. Victoria has started a plan, while in New South Wales, they are still commonplace!
  • In 2019, Victoria’s phase-out of plastic bags will start. With an election in New South Wales, the issue may gain traction.

$444 million was granted to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation by the Turnbull Government.

  • While most everyone in Australia wants to protect the Great Barrier Reef, the grant, announced in April 2018, was controversial because it was not put through a competitive tender process per usual government practice, and at the time the Foundation had only six full-time staff. For a noncompetitive process, the auditor-general found that the grant’s objectives were to broad, such as “improved management of the Great Barrier Reef”, and disagreed with the department’s assessed value for money. The first project was awarded to the Australian Institute of Marine Science and started in January 2019.
  • Despite the controversies, to remain a viable tourist destination and thriving ecosystem, the Great Barrier Reef will benefit from additional scientific attention and funding. The area faces threats from climate change and an Adani Carmichael coal mine that still faces opposition. Overall in Queensland, 2018 was a booming year for Chinese investment and boosted state leaders’ hopes for tourism.

GOVERNANCE

$18,390,818 estimated total cost (provided by the ACT Commission) for 9 by-elections since the 2016 federal election.

  • There were 7 by-elections in 2018 for federal positions due to resignations, 8 countbacks, 1 vacancy filled by the Labor selection process; these were preceded by 2 by-elections in December 2017. Between 2016 and 2017, at least 9 Senators and 2 members of the House of Representatives resigned due to the “dual citizenship crisis” in Australia. Section 44(i) of the Constitution states that those who have conflicts of interest, or loyalties to other countries such as citizenship are ineligible for Parliament. This included, among others, Former Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce (who is now a backbencher due to his love affair scandal and not the citizenship crisis).
  • Across the country, by-elections were seen as a referendum on the Government. Former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was the most high profile politician to resign, and his was the one seat to change parties (from Liberal to Independent). A national election is due by May 2019, and already we’ve seen a movement toward more independent candidates stepping forwarding and rejecting the major parties.

85% of Australians think most or all federal Members of Parliament are corrupt, andsupport creation of an anti-corruption body, according to a 2018 report by Transparency International and Griffith University.

  • It was quite a year for local and federal corruption and foreign influence. Labor Senator Sam Dastyari was pressured to resign after a scandal over a relationship with a Chinese donor. He allowed a company owned by a Chinese billionaire to pay a legal bill and made comments about the South China Sea that went against party policy. At the local level, Queensland was particularly rocked. In Ipswitch, the entire City Council was sacked in July 2018 after 15 people with links to the council faced at least 75 charges by the Crime and Corruption Commission, including two former mayors and chief executive officers. While Ipswitch former mayors were primarily facing charges for fraud, the Gold Coast mayor was at the centre of a corruption investigation over potentially influencing council decision-making while holding interests in Chinese-owned property developments. Also, Logan City Mayor Luke Smith was charged on allegations of corruption based on receiving a boat from a Chinese property developer who donated to his election campaign fund. In a message to China, the Australian Parliament passed legislation to limit foreign interference in politics. MPs and former ministers must publicly reveal any influence by foreign governments. Separately, in contrast to Australian politicians’ recent anti-Huawei sentiments (for example, the cable controversy), the Australian Strategic Policy Institute showed in 2018 that Huawei was the biggest corporate sponsor of international trips for Australian Members of Parliament (7 trips for Liberals and 5 for Labor).
  • States maintain anti-corruption commissions, but there is still no agreement about a national body. Meanwhile, a 2018 report showed that since 2012 Australia’s GDP has potentially been reduced by 4% due to corruption. Foreign interference, on the other hand, was agreed upon as a problem due to its national security implications. The 2019 Federal Election will have its first test with its new registration portal to show forms and sources of foreign influence in Australia’s political system.  

INTERNATIONAL TRADE

500,000 tonnes of grain and 575,000 live cattle could be exported to Indonesia under the Australia-Indonesia Comprehensive Economic Partnership that was supposed to be finalised in 2018.

  • Negotiations for the FTA began in 2012, and it was supposed to be a crowning achievement of the Turnbull Government. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has damaged the deal and delayed its signing – due to the fallout from his consideration of moving the Australian embassy in Israel late last year. Elections are also looming for both countries. The deal is highly sought after by agriculture and education groups, two of the most important sectors for Australia’s exports. Australian beef farmers have faced difficulties with a devalued rupiah and competition from Indian buffalo meat; fewer tariffs (and eventually zero tariffs) and raised caps for live exports were intended to lift business in the face of a drought. Despite the proximity, Indonesia is Australia’s 13th largest trading partner, and two-way trade was worth $16.4 billion in 2016-17.
  • Free trade agreements are non-partisan in Australia, so either Labor or the Coalition Government could take credit for a finalised deal with Indonesia.

187,547 Chinese international students were enrolled to study in Australia in 2017-18.

  • Education is Australia’s third largest export behind iron ore and coal, and students from China make up 30 percent of Australia’s international student population.Together, they brought in over $10 billion to the economy, almost a third of the total income of $32 billion. Chinese students are being called out by U.S. intelligence agencies among others for allegedly “spying” or thieving intellectual property (knowingly or unknowingly) on behalf of Beijing. Criticisms have also been laid on Confucius Institutes in Australia and abroad. Further, Australian universities continue to build relationships with Chinese companies, universities, and government departments like the UNSW China Centre and UNSW Torch Innovation District in order to boost rankings and research outputs, strengthen their base for international students, and commercialise research.
  • Under the Coalition Government, universities have been encouraged to seek external funding through partnerships overseas and with the private sector, with the most opportunity found in China (particularly for engineering, science, and business fields). Universities will likely continue to balance the need for funding and striving for academic freedom. 

ECONOMY

$1.8 billion committed by the Morrison Government to drought preparedness, emergency support, and low interest loans. States of NSW, Queensland, and Victoria committed an additional $1.684 billion.

  • In 2018, the drought particularly across NSW and Queensland, was called “the worst in living memory.” Rain levels in some parts of NSW were the driest on record, and the entire state was declared to be in drought. Former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said in June while touring a drought-affected area: “I don’t know many people in rural New South Wales that I talk to that don’t think the climate is getting drier and rainfall is becoming more volatile.” In October, in one of his first actions as new Prime Minister, Scott Morrison held a National Drought Summit; notably one of the objectives to guide future Drought Reform: “farming businesses and farming communities prepare for, and adapt to, climate change and variability and their effects, including drought and high temperatures.” As of October 2018, 854 farm businesses were issued concessional loans worth $490 million.
  • Long-term action to combat climate change and cope with drought will be needed in order for farmers to succeed. Meanwhile, Australia remains committed to producing and exporting coal (its #2 export).

2.2 million temporary visa holders reside in Australia, including roughly 669,000 New Zealanders on 444 visas and 391,000 graduate students.

  • As the number of students increases, apparently over 200,000 students per year switch to other visas to continue staying in Australia. The increase in students in major cities of Melbourne and Sydney has partly contributed to a strain on transportation and other public resources (but is certainly not the only cause). Additionally there are 176,000 people on bridging visas due to the Government policy of “slowing immigration.” The number of people on bridging visas has grown by almost 40,000 in the past year.
  • Prime Minister Scott Morrison wants to cut permanent city migration; in a speech in November 2018 he said: “The roads are clogged, the buses and trains are full, the schools are taking no more enrolments.” Labor and the Coalition government and state leaders are entertaining ideas on how to cut immigration.

9.9 percent drop in house prices in 2018 in Sydney and 3.5 percent nationally.

  • According to a Domain report, house prices have fallen 11.4 percent since their peak in mid-2017, with the median price at $1,062,619. Demand fuelled by population growth outstripped supply leading to the previous years of double-digit growth. Chinese purchases of Australian real estate softened overall in 2018 due to capital controls introduced in 2017, additional taxes, and difficulty in getting financing for foreign buyers. Bank lending has also tightened due to investigations from the Royal Commission.
  • In 2019, house prices are predicted to continue to fall and may impact consumer sentiment. If Labor is able to end negative gearing, it will further support those wanting to purchase their first home.

SECURITY

>$100 million spent on Australian support for APEC hosted in Papua New Guinea.

  • Australia underwrote many costs of the 2018 APEC meeting, with a price tag of over $100 million; almost half of it supported the Australian Federal Police security commitment. According to the ABC, Australia deployed special forces soldiers and had Royal Australian Navy warships sitting off the coast to protect cruise liners that accommodated many APEC delegates. The final bill is not yet known. By comparison, China’s contributions included gifting a $35 million overhaul of the International Convention Centre and upgrading a major road with signs declaring “China Aid.”
  • Both Labor and the Coalition Government have announced plans to “step up” aid and security commitments to Pacific island neighbours to counter Chinese influence. In February, Foreign Minister Payne was the latest in a flurry of high profile Australian visitors to the region, traveling to the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, and Tuvalu.  

$2 billion in concessional loan and grant schemes were allocated by the Morrison Government for infrastructure projects in the Pacific. Another $1 billion will be able in export financing.

  • In November, Australia’s announcement of an infrastructure bank, Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility, is in line with the U.S. announcement in July of USD$113 million in new infrastructure initiatives in the Indo-Pacific region. In July 2018, Australia, Japan, and the U.S. announced a trilateral partnership to “enhance peace and security in the Indo-Pacific” by mobilising investment in transportation, energy, tourism, and technology infrastructure. This pact seeks to combat China’s Belt and Road Initiative and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). Meanwhile, whether or not anyone believes it, Labor leader Bill Shorten said that his planned infrastructure spending increase in the Pacific is not about China. According to the Asian Development Bank, emerging economies in the region will require at least USD$26 trillion for infrastructure by the year 2030. This figure has been adjusted for climate change and is more than double their 2009 estimate.
  • Still, an increase in frequency and strength in natural disasters may worsen infrastructure prospects; leaders in Australia will be called upon to do more than throw money at projects that can be considered climate change adaptation.

1,587 U.S. Marines were stationed in Darwin.

  • A record number of U.S. Marines were in Darwin for six months in 2018 to train alongside the Australian Defence Force. Troops from Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore,  France, and Thailand also were invited to take part in 15 training exercises in the area.
  • In the future, more U.S. troops may be in the area to support redevelopment of the PNG naval base at Manus Island. The AFR considers the PNG base a counter to “Beijing’s aspirations for military facilities of their own in PNG.”

AUSMIN 2018: What’s In, What’s Out

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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.

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]

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‘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.