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.”

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]

Leading at the Margins: Palau’s Role in the 2014 Pacific Island Forum

This year states are being asked to take action on sustainable energy projects “irrespective of political status.” As host of this year’s 45th Pacific Islands Forum from July 29 to August 1, leaders of the Republic of Palau are doing their part to call global attention to the plight of Pacific islands. Palau’s efforts coincide with the United Nations designation of 2014 as the ‘Year of the Small Island Developing States’. Palau’s culture of conservation and preservation has helped the state to become a leader in climate adaptation and a formidable partner in pursuing multilateral solutions to migration challenges.

Now is the time to connect conservation with development. Nonprofits, government and the private sector are working together through the Global Island Partnership (GLISPA) in an attempt to build resilient and sustainable island communities. Leaders of small island states like President Tommy Remengesau of Palau seek to reverse the trend of increasing spending on defense budgets and instead spend more on conservation, and peaceful relationship-building efforts. Through GLISPA, actors are trying to find “island solutions to island challenges” because “nature forms part of [their] economy.” At a GLISPA meeting earlier this year, Palau’s Ambassador to the United States Hersey Kyota quipped that the country has an informal motto to “take enough for yourself, leave some for others.” Over time, traditional concepts of conservation have changed with technology, enabling people to store more and for companies to produce more than they need to live sustainably.

President Remengesau is expecting at least 500 people to attend the Pacific Island Forum this year, including heads of state. During his recent visit to Japan, Remengesau extended an invitation to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to attend the forum in the wake of Japan’s increasing development projects in the region. Japan continues to add to its Aid-for-Trade programs including a new agreement in June with the Kingdom of Tonga which will help the state to purchase goods from Japan’s earthquake and tsunami-damaged region. To counter China’s diplomatic and economic efforts and as part of the ‘rebalance,’ the United States has notably increased its presence at PIF meetings since Secretary Clinton’s visit to the Cook Islands in 2012; last year the US sent Department of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell along with a delegation also representing Departments of State, Homeland Security, Energy, Agriculture, Health and Human Services and US Pacific Command. In contrast, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key may not attend due to upcoming elections in September; but, NZ recently created a new position and appointed former Labour Member of Parliament Shane Jones as Ambassador for Pacific Economic Development, to help coordinate and boost the country’s relationships, development programs and fisheries projects.

More important than the number of attendees is the commitments that can be made and followed through by larger states, and the impact a cohesive Pacific group of nations can have on swaying the international community to not only change their behaviors but help . At last year’s PIF meeting in the Solomon Islands, members signed the Majuro Declaration and made specific commitments, hoping to launch a “new wave of climate leadership.” So far it seems Australia has been the only state to move away from its commitments, with Prime Minister Tony Abbott holding the country’s plans hostage; Australia previously agreed to have 20% of its electricity generated from renewables by 2020 as well as its pursuit of emissions reductions targets. Small island states meanwhile created ambitious targets to transform their economies: Niue and the Cook Islands aim to generate 100% of their energy from renewables by 2020, Vanuatu seeks 65% by 2020, and Nauru and Solomon Islands have targets of 50% renewable energy generation by 2020 and 2015, respectively.

Emissions reductions are a more delicate political issue than changing sources of energy for both large and small states because of the economic implications for heavy polluting industries in particular and businesses in general; in the Pacific though, according to Kyota, the tension surrounding who is to blame for high emissions levels inducing climate change becomes old news when states must deal with the consequences including ocean acidification, overfishing and rising sea levels. Kiribati for example is facing certain sea level rise that will make its islands uninhabitable, and the government is investigating options for mass migration.

Palau has to evolve with “climate mitigation,” according to Ambassador Kyota, due to “things that were not caused by us.” Palau has a population of about 20,000 people, and is currently facing prospects of severe drought this year due to El Nino weather patterns. Multilateral cooperation will be critical to changing the rhetoric and discourse of climate adaptation and mitigation, and should aim to prevent free-riding. In opposition to Tony Abbott’s complaints about economic impacts of carbon pricing and other climate-related regulations, Kiribati’s President Anote Tong said “We’re not talking about the growth GDP, we’re not talking about what it means in terms of profit and losses of the large corporations, we’re talking about our survival.”  For Kiribati, “our future is already here … we will be underwater.” President Tong recently announced that Kiribati would prohibit commercial fishing in the Phoenix Islands Protected Area, which is about the size of the state of California. President Remengesau has also recently called for a total ban on commercial fishing, in the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone, which would create a sanctuary an area the size of Ukraine. Banning export-oriented commercial fishing is likely to have a larger impact on government budgets than on local fishermen and food supplies, as fishing revenues come primarily from selling permits to overseas vessels. For Kiribati, Palau and others, the short term losses will outweigh the benefits of restoring stocks of tuna for global food security and regional conservation efforts.

Thanks to Japanese investment through the Pacific Environment Community Fund, in March this year Palau installed a new solar power generation system and salt water desalination plant which exemplifies the water-energy nexus. It will reduce reliance on fossil fuels while also providing clean, safe drinking water to residents. According to the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, administrator of the fund, the governments of Samoa, Tuvalu, Cook Islands, Nauru, theSolomon Islands, Fiji, Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Niue, Republic of Palau, Republic of Marshall Islands and Vanuatu have to date utilized the PEC Fund “for national renewable energy and seawater desalination projects.”

Many events are happening this year specifically to coincide with the Year of the Small Island Developing States, and there are positive signs that the international community is recognizing the opportunity to act to support the efforts of island states. On June 17, US President Barack Obama proposed to create the world’s largest marine sanctuary in addition to other actions at the State Department-led “Our Ocean” conference; President Obama seeks to use his presidential authority if necessary but will work to create guidelines based on stakeholder input. The US, Japan and China as the world’s largest economies must continue to follow and model the efforts of the smallest states as they transform what we think of as sustainable development. As water increases in scarcity and ocean acidification intensifies in the Pacific, Australia should reverse its mistakes on climate initiatives. The PIF meeting in July hopes to continue the groundswell of action, leading to a well-prepared UN Conference on Small Island Developing States to be held in Samoa in September. At each multilateral setting, Japan, the European Union the US have continued to display their support for sustainable development initiatives, recognizing not only the pristine environment to be saved and peoples to support, but also the potential to showcase to their own publics the power of creating more areas for conservation and the need for a shift in discourse. It will be up to all actors – including Palau as leader of the PIF – to keep one another engaged in this critical year.

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.”

Review of Pacific Plan Essential for an Effective Pacific Islands Forum

Between 31 July and 3 August, the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat meetings in Fiji set a tone for the forthcoming leaders’ meetings in the Cook Islands at the end of August.  Much of the media focus surrounding the Pacific has centered on the US involvement in the dialogue as part of its rebalancing, and to a lesser extent, Australia and New Zealand’s changing relations with Fiji.  As the Secretariat meetings have indicated, however, reforming the Pacific Plan to reflect the contemporary political, economic and security conditions in the Pacific will be critical for this year.  Issues of labor mobility and trade integration within the Pacific Islands region will be critical to the continued development and success of the Pacific Plan and the Pacific as a whole. 

A product of the 2004 Auckland Declaration, the Pacific Plan is a ‘living document’ that enables initiatives to adapt with the framework. The Pacific Plan has four pillars aimed at enhancing economic growth, sustainable development, good governance and security of the Pacific through regionalism.  Securing actions at the national level has been a paramount concern given the diversity of states and disparity in wealth.

One goal in reviewing the current Pacific Plan should be to improve labor mobility in the region. This goal is steadily gaining traction, but policymakers need to take care to avoid some of the negative aspects of temporary migration and to provide more sustainability.  The Australian Pacific Seasonal Work Pilot Scheme and New Zealand Recognised Seasonal Employer Scheme have been workable models to increase remittances among the island states.  In fact, there are recruiting firms throughout the Pacific that promote workers for both New Zealand and Australian schemes (see, for example, http://www.workreadyvanuatu.com).    

However, the seasonal worker schemes create multiple dependencies on unskilled labor.  Horticulture, viticulture and other industries that have seasonal labor needs are more inclined to take on labor with less ability to make demands for rights and benefits; furthermore, migrant labor provides a pool of labor potentially unavailable or unwilling to do the grunt work required in those industries.  Migrants, on the other hand, become dependent on impermanent, unskilled and unpredictable work.  While remittances are highly valued as essential Pacific economies, the type of work created for seasonal workers is currently not the most sustainable either in terms of returning home as a skilled migrant or with a secure income.   

Such an exchange of labor could be expanded to all Forum Island Countries (FICs) in a way that encourages training and the exchange of skills. (See, for example, doctor exchanges between Venezuela and Cuba as a progressive idea; it hasn’t worked well in practice however due to strong ideological fervor among both states).  For a more skilled and sustainable Pacific economy, training is needed outside of the temporary program, and protections are needed against exploitation.  Migrants and temporary workers are typically the most disadvantaged in in terms of labor rights and the Pacific has the potential to produce a more equitable regional model.

Like the issue of labor mobility, creating a common market and pursuing free trade in the Pacific are goals that require careful attention.  Both Australian and New Zealand foreign ministries have explicitly stated that their approach to the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations (PACER) Plus negotiations differs from their traditional approach to free trade agreements; rather than focusing solely on their states’ commercial interests, Australia and New Zealand aim to promote the development and capacity of FICs.  The two regional powers additionally must maintain competitiveness with potential trade agreements that FICs make with the European Union. 

With ever-increasing collusion among trade, development and foreign policies, taking steps toward free trade agreements is a precondition for aid and greater access to NZ and Australian markets.  The goal of PACER Plus is to start with free trade within the FICs to demonstrate their abilities to cope with such policies.  One problem encountered by the region is that the principles of free trade clash with certain traditional Pacific principles (e.g. property rights).  Regionally, community development solutions such as bulk purchasing invite avenues for creativity and take into consideration the nature and interests of Pacific Island states.

Globalization and the changing international political landscape are creating an increasingly competitive environment in the Pacific.  As the region draws greater attention from China and the US for its geostrategic position and natural resources, the Pacific Islands Forum and its member states should secure a more formidable voice, particularly on issues that impact the region.  An effective review and renewal of the Pacific Plan then must include two of the most noteworthy subjects for development, improved labor mobility and closer economic relations.