SPEECH - 2014 ACFID National Council Speech

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THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP

DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION

SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT

SPEECH

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2014 AUSTRALIAN COUNCIL FOR INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT NATIONAL COUNCIL

I would like to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners and custodians of the land on which we meet today, the Ngunnawal people, and pay my respects to their elders both past and present.

I would also like to acknowledge:

  • Sam Mostyn, President of ACFID;
  • Marc Purcell, Executive Director of ACFID;
  • Other ACFID council members;
  • Senator Lee Rhiannon.

This week Gough Whitlam passed away at the age of 98.

Many of us have been reflecting on how much Australia changed under Gough’s Prime Ministership, and how much has changed since.

That in 1974, Gough brought Australia’s aid spending to its height of 0.5 per cent of GNI – working towards 0.7 per cent - saying it was ‘in recognition of the responsibilities that lie on all of the richer nations to assist the poor and undeveloped countries.’

That today, the Abbott Government has cut aid by $7.6 billion and walked away from the 0.5 per cent target altogether – meaning Australian aid has peaked at 0.35 per cent and is now declining.

Despite the mounting policy successes of recent years as we near the end of the Millennium Development Goals, in Australia we have to confront the fact that bipartisanship on aid is broken and that unprecedented political ground has been lost under the current government.

It has been a little over a year since the Abbott Government was elected, and in that time we have heard a lot about aid effectiveness, as though it were absent prior to the election.

It is important to defend the record and the reality. Australia has over many years built a highly effective aid program through our NGOs and our specialist aid agency AusAID:

  • We have the headline statistics, like in Timor-Leste where we helped more than 30,000 farmers improve their yield, in some cases by as much as 80 per cent, or helped 67,000 people get access to basic sanitation.
  • We have the anecdotes about individual programs, like the mobile courtrooms in Indonesia helping disadvantaged women get marriage and birth certificates, so they could enrol their children in school.
  • We have the individual stories that we all carry around with us, like the women in Papua New Guinea who were able to use the local markets more freely because the ablution blocks our aid program had built meant they did not have to use the nearby bushes and risk being robbed or raped.

But we don’t just have statistics, anecdotal evidence and individual stories.

Positive findings in our own independent reviews were backed up by the most recent Peer Review from the OECD last year, which highlighted some of the strengths of our aid program:

  • We were increasing funding in line with our target to reach 0.5 per cent of GNI, our areas of good practice were increasing and the overall degree of fragmentation was decreasing.
  • AusAID was singled out for praise for its strategic planning and the coherence it brought to key policy areas.
  • Our focus on gender and support of UN Women was among the best in the world, as was our expertise in disability-inclusive aid.

Aid effectiveness is not a new concept. We had a highly effective aid program.

It’s an important point to make, because aid effectiveness matters not just to development outcomes, but to public trust in foreign aid itself.

  • You would all have seen the research produced by the Narrative Project this year with the support of a number of your organisations. It confirmed what many of us already knew: that the biggest barrier to mobilising public support for global development is the perception that aid is wasted and that progress is impossible.

Of course we should all demand effectiveness of our aid program.

But in addition to being an important goal in itself, the debate around effectiveness can also operate as a dog-whistle to the sceptics in the community, and a smokescreen for the vandals in government.

We must start the conversation by saying that aid works, and that Australian aid in particular is not just effective but transformational and world-leading.

Internationally, we are facing a changing environment for aid:

  • The GFC has seen some donors reducing their efforts, while at the same time we have new entrants like China and India. Public and private donors are shaping the agenda through new partnerships like GAVI which has helped immunize 440 million boys and girls since 2000, saving six million lives.
  • We’re seeing greater need around climate change, natural disasters, and disease – like the global implications of the Ebola crisis in West Africa, and the need for a coordinated international response.
  • At the same time, economic development is happening alongside rapid technological change – like in Kenya, where fishermen out at sea use their mobile phones to check the price of fish at different markets before deciding where to land, and 86 per cent of households report using mobile phones to make payments.

In this changing environment, government is increasingly looking to NGOs and the private sector to play a larger role in development:

  • The private sector does have a role to play, but it will never replace effort and expenditure which government withdraws.
  • And government also has a particular role to play in providing coordination and accountability which won’t easily be filled by the private sector or NGOs.
  • NGOs are partners in the design and delivery of aid programs, and advocates for communities in developing countries, not just a way to outsource our country’s responsibility to the international community.

That partnership between government, NGOs and the private sector only works when it is built on respect and transparency. But the evidence is that the government needs to do much better on this front:

  • Since the change of government, our ranking on the Aid Transparency Index has dropped and the adoption of the Open Government Partnership has stalled. Labor joined over 60 other countries in the Open Government Partnership to commit Australia to improving access to information about government activities, through a concrete action plan.
  • The Abbott Government says that they will redirect resources to NGOs which are effective on the ground, but so far there is little to no information about how that effectiveness will be evaluated.
  • In June, Labor asked when the effectiveness benchmarks would be released – the response from the Government was to point to their new performance framework, and yet all that framework said was that benchmarks would be included in country and regional plans over the next 12 months.
  • As you know, it is estimated that the value of aid is reduced by up to 20 per cent when funding is unpredictable and volatile. So the Government’s approach not only means ongoing uncertainty for NGOs who don’t know whether their funding will be cut, but decreased effectiveness for our aid program more broadly.

As we build towards a new international consensus around the Sustainable Development Goals, it is important to be clear about what the purpose of our aid program is:

  • I cannot understand a government which removes poverty alleviation as an objective of our aid program, as the Abbott Government did. Surely helping people and countries overcome poverty is the central purpose of foreign aid?
    • While trade is important for developing countries, the Abbott Government seems untroubled by the prospect that the gains flowing from increased “aid for trade” may only trickle down unevenly with no guarantee of helping those most in need
    • As we know, economic growth does not necessarily reduce inequality. Countries like Cambodia and Indonesia have seen growth and income inequality rise together – and the IMF has even found that inequality ultimately threatens long-term growth.
    • So it’s vital that we maintain clarity about the purpose of our aid program – not to drive growth for growth’s sake, but to help people overcome poverty.

The biggest challenge of all, though, is the broken bipartisanship on aid and development.

For the Abbott government, ‘aid effectiveness’ and private sector investment are fig leaves to hide their cuts and failures of political leadership.

To put it bluntly, if the two greatest challenges faced by the aid sector are inequality and climate change, then the Abbott Government has vandalized your agenda for global development:

  • Cutting $7.6 billion from aid and walking away from the bipartisan commitment to the 0.5 per cent target of GNI which John Howard signed up to.
  • Tearing up the carbon price and taking us backward on climate change at home, and undermining momentum for international action abroad.

These cuts aren’t just a headline statistic. $7.6 billion in aid could contribute to:

  • Connecting 600 000 people to basic sanitation or sewerage; and
  • Creating 180 000 new school places; and
  • Training almost 30 000 health professionals, and ensuring over 300 000 births are attended by a skilled health worker.

But what disturbs me most is the lack of consequences:

  • With the 2014 Budget, the Abbott Government bet that even though the cuts to aid were the largest in the Budget by far – one in every five dollars of cuts – the political consequences would be minimal.
  • Although some organisations and individuals have spoken up, the lack of a coordinated response by the sector has proven them right.

In Parliament we call “Dorothy Dixers” the planted questions that government ministers are asked by their own backbenchers – named after an American advice columnist who answered her own questions.

It is the way the government of the day draws attention to their political successes, and the things they are most proud of.

This year, Julie Bishop has been asked seven Dorothy Dix questions during Question Time by her own backbenchers about their cuts to aid.

They aren’t just keeping quiet about these cuts, they actually see them as a political windfall. They are crowing about them.

And why shouldn’t they? They can pander to the aid-sceptics in the community while at the same time being welcomed for their ‘commitment to Australia’s aid’ – as ACFID publicly did earlier this month.

When Labor was in government we nearly doubled the aid budget and maintained our commitment to the 0.5 per cent target. The Liberals have cut aid by $7.6 billion and abandoned the 0.5 per cent target.

In this new partisan paradigm, it’s worth remembering that Australia’s commitment to development isn’t just a story about political leadership – giants like Gough Whitlam, and vandals like Tony Abbott.

It’s also a story about the development sector, mobilising the Australian public and lifting our aspirations.

I remember the extraordinary energy of the Make Poverty History campaign which locked in bipartisan support for the 0.5 per cent target – I remember it not just as a moral argument, but as a political strategy for the sector to exert influence over Australia’s place in the world.

And I remember that it worked.

When we ask ourselves why so much political ground has been lost, two features stand out.

Leadership from government.

And a strong, coordinated campaign from the sector which can mobilise public sentiment.

I've been told today that you'll be launching such a campaign tomorrow. I cannot say how thrilled I am to hear it and how pleased I will be to see and support the work you will be doing in communities. I know that there will be people around Australia who will have been looking for this leadership who will be delighted to sign on.

When the Millennium Development Goals were agreed to, we rose to that challenge together – a political success that matters because of the human lives it changed and saved.

Through the MDGs we have:

  • Halved global poverty;
  • Averted 3.3 million deaths from malaria;
  • Provided primary education to 90 per cent of children in developing regions.

As we near the end of the MDGs and the development of the Sustainable Development Goals, it’s clear that these new targets will require more – not less – from the international community.

More commitment to tackling poverty, inequality and environment degradation.

More resources to translate that commitment into results.

We will be asked to lift our ambition and our efforts, and at this crucial moment we cannot allow Australia to think smaller and do less.

The SDGs will articulate the development challenge for the international community, and the roadmap for responding to it.

Whether Australia rises to that challenge and does its fair share is up to us.

ENDS 

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SPEECH - Death of the Hon. Edward Gough Whitlam AC QC - Motion of Condolence

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THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP

DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION

SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT

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SPEECH

DEATH OF THE HON. EDWARD GOUGH WHITLAM AC QC - MOTION OF CONDOLENCE

HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

TUESDAY, 21 OCTOBER 2014

 

 

Thank you Madam Speaker.

I’d like to pay my respects to the family of Gough and Margaret Whitlam and I start by acknowledging, Catherine, Nicholas, Tony, Stephen, their partners and their families.  The wonderful support and love they have shown their parents for many years.  And of course Gough’s dear friends who will miss him so greatly. 

I have often thought it fitting that Gough Whitlam was Australia’s 21st Prime Minister.

Because with Gough as Prime Minister, Australia came of age.

An Australia that once thought small was asked to think big.

An Australia, once closed and inward-looking, opened to the world.

Gough rejected those old ideas of what Australia should be and led us to what Australia could be.

The Australia that Gough Whitlam was born to in 1916, almost a century ago, was a very different place.

We were at war in support of mother England.

Australian women had only relatively recently secured the right to vote.

And Indigenous Australians were shamefully excluded from our national life and even from our national census.

Gough’s life, nearly a century long, charted the evolution of our nation from one of insularity and dependence, to one of openness and confidence.

Gough only had three short years in Government.

But they were I think, arguably, the most transformative three years in Australian political history.

Free university education - my family, my brothers and I, and I think many people on Labor’s side, and no doubt many on the other side too, were the first in their families able to afford a university education.

You could get a university education based on your intellect, your hard work, your desire to go to university, rather than your parents income.

Universal healthcare.  Medibank, now Medicare.

Rights for women, support for sole parents, homeless Australians, and for “new Australians” as they were then called. He made room for us all in our nation.

Who can forget that image of Gough Whitlam pouring the sand into Vincent Lingiari’s hand?

…starting a process of giving land rights to Indigenous Australians who had waited so long and worked so hard to achieve that gain.

Gough’s commitment to equality for women, was best embodied in the wonderful relationship he had with his beloved wife, Margaret.

A relationship which spanned nearly 70 years of marriage.

Yes, Gough’s reforms for women were landmark.

They included the election of the first Labor woman to the house of representatives, Joan Child in 1974.

His partnership with Margaret was such a driving force of that drive for equality for women.  Gough respected her, he listened to her views, he treated her as an equal in every way.

When she died, a few months short of 70 years of marriage he said: ”We were married for almost 70 years…she was a remarkable person and the love of my life.”

On hearing of Gough’s passing today, many people have described Gough as a giant of our nation.

And he was.

He was a towering figure.

He had the ability to deliver soaring rhetoric, but his actions were down to earth.

He was a very warm person on a one to one basis.

I remember when my parents first met him they were almost embarrassed to talk to him because they admired him so much - he was so incredibly warm and welcoming to them, particularly to my mother.

His ability to talk at an international level about issues of enormous complexity and convince an audience on the one hand, and on the other speak person to person to any Australian and make them feel respected and included.  A phenomenal ability.

From helping to sewer Western Sydney, to his reforms to health and education.

It was that ability to merge the idealistic and the pragmatic that made him such a great leader.

He delivered so many great reforms that mattered so much to the everyday lives of Australians.

His work in the suburbs of Sydney, not just the sewers but the work that he and Margaret did together building libraries and swimming pools.

Those things mattered to Gough as well.

They mattered to the people he represented, and they mattered to him.

They were the great motivator for him, the thing that made him work so hard as a member of Parliament.

But as well as that phenomenal drive to improve the lives of Australians, at that suburban level, in Western Sydney in particular, he also saw himself, and saw Australians, as citizens of the world.

He turned Australia into an outward looking nation.

He ended conscription, he brought our last troops home from Vietnam.

He delivered independence for Papua New Guinea.

He said at the time:

“By an extraordinary twist of history, Australia, herself once a colony, became one of the world's last colonial powers. By this legislation, we not only divest ourselves of the last significant colony in the world, but we divest ourselves of our own colonial heritage. It should never be forgotten that in making our own former colony independent, we as Australians enhance our own independence. Australia was never truly free until Papua New Guinea became truly free”. 

Most enduringly perhaps, Gough helped us find our place in Asia.

He visited China of course, as Opposition leader – leading the world.

And as Prime Minister he established diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China – where to this day he is still remembered with great affection.

Gough united with Malcolm Fraser to campaign for a republic, part of his long term push to cement Australia’s independence.   As Prime Minister he changed the national anthem from God Save the Queen to Advance Australia Fair, and he dispensed with the British honours system.

He was a fine ambassador to UNESCO and he was part of our successful bid for the Sydney Olympics - both he and Margaret were.

Malcolm Fraser said about him “he wanted Australia to be an independent player on the world stage. He didn’t want Australia to be the subject of any other nation.”  His whole career expressed that.

Gough’s legacy both domestically and on the world stage is now so deeply ingrained in our national character that we sometimes take it for granted.  We forget, perhaps, how fierce the battles were.

All of our Prime Ministers have served our nation with great loyalty and distinction.

But, there will always be something special about Gough.

He had an ego, that’s true.  And he was the first to make fun of himself for that.

He said in the early 2000s: “I feel I am eternal but not immortal."

As always, as he would say, he was right about that.

His contribution to Australia has changed us, fundamentally and permanently. But you know, the great man, still came to branch members’ Christmas parties, he still did Labor Party fundraisers for me and for many of my colleagues.

And he would turn up without fanfare. There was one year we had our Christmas party upstairs at a pub and he needed assistance up the stairs.  I said to him “Gough, if you’d told us you were coming, we would have had the party anywhere just to make it a little bit easier for you to attend”.

He waved away that consideration and said “comrade, I’m just a humble branch member now”.

He also, I think, had Margaret to keep him in check. I remember one of these fundraisers where he was speaking and he got onto a favourite topic of his - the single gauge railway.  It ended with Margaret banging her stick on the ground saying “enough now, Gough, they’ve heard enough, sit down!”

They loved each other very deeply and each of them made an enormous commitment to the service of our nation.

They will be deeply missed by their friends, by their family, and by our colleague, John Faulkner, who had a very special friendship with Gough Whitlam.

The outpouring of grief that we are witnessing today is not just mourning for a man, but for everything he represented.

He had a clear vision of the country that he knew Australia could be, and he had the ability to project that vision to the world.

More than anything else, Gough’s memory should inspire us to have courage in politics.

           …a reminder that often the most important reforms are the hardest.

But as we’ve seen today from the unprecedented public response to his passing, it is those reforms that Australians cherish, and it is those reforms that will outlast us all.

Gough, my friend and comrade, rest in peace.

ENDS

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SPEECH - Matter of Public Importance - Social Cohesion

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THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP

DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION

SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT

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SPEECH

MATTER OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE – SOCIAL COHESION

HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES


THURSDAY, 2 OCTOBER 2014

Australians have been troubled recently. They have been troubled by the news they are watching on their TVs at night.

Events at home and events around the world have led many to wonder what kind of world they are living in. And of course at times of trouble the most important question we can ask ourselves: are we stronger together?

And what can we do to make our nation stronger together?

We’ve seen stories of Australians who have, inexplicably to most of us, gone overseas to fight.

But just as inexplicably to me, we have seen stories of Australians graffiting mosques, pulling headscarves off girls, threatening schoolchildren, one man alleged to have gone into a Muslim school and threatened those children with a knife. Jewish kids in Sydney threatened on a bus. Sikh taxi drivers threatened when they have been driving their taxis.

I have to say that these two problems – the problem of radicilisation and the problem of racism – are two sides of the one coin. As Australians we have to reject both of them outright. Neither of these represent the Australia that we are part of.

I remember a few years ago I was at the Royal National Park with my mum, my dad and my kids, and my dad told a guy not to get too close to the ducklings because he would disturb them. And this man told my father ‘You should go back where you came from.’ After 65 years living in Australia, paying his taxes, being a good citizens. And the shock was not the dumb racism, the shock was being told that he didn’t belong after 65 years in this country.

We cannot afford to say to any Australian now, you do not belong.

Our responsibility is to show our strength by embracing diversity, embracing difference, and speaking to all of our communities about what makes our community stronger.

One of the best things about being a Member of Parliament, one of the things I enjoy the very most, is going to citizenship ceremonies. Because at those ceremonies we meet people who have chosen Australia as their home, they have chosen to become part of our national family. And we say at each of those citizenship ceremonies our pledge:  “I pledge loyalty to Australia and its people, whose democratic beliefs I share, whose rights and liberties I respect, and whose laws I will uphold and obey.”

There is no more elegant or eloquent expression of our Australian values.

Our values of democracy, human rights, liberties and the rule of law.

I think Australian schoolkids should learn this pledge because it is such an elegant and eloquent description of what it is to be Australian.

This year, Vietnamese refugee Hieu Van Le became the new Governor of South Australia. He has said when he was a young fellow he remembers experiencing racism, and he really remembers it melting away. Until he Pauline Hanson made that maiden speech in this parliament.

And this is my plea to members here in this parliament.

To remember our particular, our special responsibility as leaders. To say clearly in the Australian community that we value difference, we embrace diversity. What makes us different makes us stronger.

There were 20 nationalities represented at the Eureka Stockade, those people fighting together and standing up for a fair go for other Australians.

I think about that as one of the seminal moments from our nation’s history, but it was the people of many nations coming together to say about their new home: ‘these are the values we live by, this is the way we expect to treat one another, this is what it is to be part of the new Australia.’

Our leadership matters. Our words matter.

It is our responsibility to say again and again in the face of division that we are stronger together.

ENDS

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SPEECH - MH17 - Response to Tabling of Treaty Between Australia and the Netherlands

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THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP

DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION

SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT

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SPEECH


TUESDAY, 30 SEPTEMBER 2014

 

MH17 - RESPONSE TO TABLING OF TREATY BETWEEN AUSTRALIA AND THE NETHERLANDS

 

Of course the Opposition in this, as with all things related to MH17, supports the Government. The Opposition welcomes the tabling of the Treaty between Australia and the Kingdom of the Netherlands on the presence of Australian personnel in the Netherlands for the purpose of responding to the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17.

There are dates that stick with us.

The years of war; the days of loss.

September 11, 2001.

October 12, 2002 and October 1 2005, the Bali bombings.

And now July 17. Each of us can no doubt remember exactly where we were and what we were doing when we first heard news of the tragic downing of MH17 on the 17th of July this year.

We know that 298 people on board lost their lives, that 38 of the victims called Australia home.

Beyond the dates and the numbers, we have also come to know some of the personal stories of the people on that plane.

Emma Bell, the teacher working in the Northern Territory community of Maningrida, where Aboriginal elders held a smoking ceremony last month to remember her.

Gary and Mona Lee, who migrated to Australia in the 1970s.

Sister Philomene Tiernan, a nun from Sydney.

Perth resident Nick Norris and his three grandchildren.

Evie, Mo and Otis Maslin.

Researchers travelling to the 2014 AIDS conference in Melbourne, including the former president of the International AIDS Society Joep Lange.

We know so many of the names, so many of the stories, and of course we know a little of the grief of the families.

Much of the past two months have been about coming to terms with what we saw on that tragic day in July.

We’ve seen the efforts that our investigators, part of an international effort, have made, to bring to justice those responsible for this terrible crime. Unexpected, unjust, and unjustifiable.

Of course the shooting down of an unarmed passenger jet in civilian airspace demands answers, and it also demands a reconnection of those grieving families with something of the people that they have lost.

James and Vanessa Rizk who lost their parents, Albert and Maree. They held a memorial service in early August with more than 1000 mourners, and were later able to hold a private family funeral for their parents.

The family of Mary and Gerry Menke from Mallacoota, who said ‘We look forward to receiving Mary and Gerry again soon in the place and the community they loved so much and which loved them.’

The work of returning the remains of those who lost their lives to Australia is phenomenally important to the families, those last objects that their loved ones touched, the things that they were holding and handling on their flight home.

The efforts of the international team have been helping families around the world both understand the source of the crime, and have their loved ones return to them.

One of the pilots, Captain Eugene Choo Jin Leong, was returned to his family for a funeral service in Malaysia.

His friend, another pilot, Azlan Abu Bakar, described flying home from the Netherlands, saying: "It was horrible bringing my very close friend. We used to fly together, and this time we fly together again but in different situation."

And yet as difficult as that journey was, that pilot’s remains were able to rest in an urn in his family home to allow his family to come and pay their respects.

These stories underscore the human tragedy underlying the efforts of Australian personnel in the Ukraine and the Netherlands.

The need for confidence in the investigation from all the loved ones of those 298 victims.

It is a mission that Australian personnel and their international partners have carried out with distinction in extremely challenging circumstance, including reports of a team spending seven hours – at times avoiding arms fire – to retrieve small pieces of debris and a silver necklace.

It is completely unacceptable that participants in this conflict on Ukrainian soil were not able to afford safe passage and security to the international team of experts working on the MH17 crash site.

Russia must accept its share of responsibility for the ongoing instability in the Ukraine, and must fully cooperate with efforts to understand the chain of events which led to this crash.

Australia has been an international leader in the discussion about the investigation, following the moving of resolution 2166 in the UN Security Council.

This is exactly the sort of use that we envisaged for Australia’s representation on the Security Council when we argued so hard that a country of Australia’s stature deserved its place on the Security Council.

Given the seriousness of the tragedy, and the urgency of the efforts by Australian personnel overseas, the Treaty being tabled today forms an important part of our national response.

The Treaty was signed and entered into force on 1 August this year, and acknowledges the responsibilities of Australian personnel, including to respect the sovereignty and laws of the Netherlands.

The Treaty also affords our personnel rights and protections during their important work, including allowing them to carry weapons and wear field uniform.

The arrangements provide that Australian personnel will remain under Australia’s command, and any necessary administrative or disciplinary action will be taken by Australia.

The Opposition notes that the Government relied on the National Interest Exemption to take binding treaty action before the Treaty was tabled in Parliament. We accept the time sensitivity of the situation at hand, and the primacy of affording proper protection to Australian personnel from the Department of Defence and Australian Federal Police.

I welcome the tabling of this Treaty and commend it to Parliament.

ENDS

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SPEECH - Iraq - Response to Prime Ministerial Statement

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THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP

DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION

SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT

MEMBER FOR SYDNEY

SPEECH

IRAQ – RESPONSE TO PRIME MINISTERIAL STATEMENT

PARLIAMENT OF AUSTRALIA

CANBERRA

WEDNESDAY, 3 SEPTEMBER 2014

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INTRODUCTION

When Australians hear their government talk of involvement in Iraq again they have good reason to be cautious.

The disaster of the 2003 invasion colours every debate. And we should never forget its lessons.

As I said in a letter presented to then US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice back in 2003 - the Bush administration, the Blair administration, and our own Howard administration rushed in.

They went in on the basis of false claims about Weapons of Mass Destruction, and before weapons inspectors had time to complete their work.

They went in without international support, without the support of the majority of the Iraqi population, or neighbouring countries.

Australia went in despite the hundreds of thousands of people who took to our streets in protest.

The result? Nearly a decade of conflict, hundreds of thousands dead, and significant instability in the region. In the context of this history, it is right that people urge caution now.

THE SITUATION IN IRAQ NOW

While history should inform our actions, it should not cloud a sober assessment of the facts of the current situation. Islamic State (IS) is an abhorrent, brutal force.

It is an organisation willing to kill anyone who is opposes it.

There are confirmed instances of IS engaging in widespread ethnic and religious cleansing, targeted killings, forced conversions, abductions, trafficking, slavery, sexual abuse, destruction of places of religious and cultural significance, and the besieging of entire communities.

There are reports of thousands of Iraqi civilian deaths, and thousands injured.

These reports are so serious that on Monday, the United Nations Human Rights Council authorised an investigation into mass atrocity crimes in Iraq.

And journalists like Steven Sotloff and James Foley brutally killed for propaganda purposes.

The UN refugee agency says around 1.2 million Iraqis have been forced to flee their homes. A humanitarian disaster already exists in Iraq.

The scale of the crisis has led to calls for the international community to assist. The United Nations Secretary-General, Ban-Ki Moon has said: “The international community must ensure solidarity.

Not a single country or organisation can handle this international terrorism.

“This has global concerns so I appreciate some key countries who have been showing very decisive and determined actions…without addressing this issue through certain means, including some military and counter-terrorist actions, we will just end up allowing these terrorist activities to continue.”

The Iraqi Government has asked for help in pushing back IS.

And Iraqi communities here in Australia have called for support too, including Kurds, Yezidhis, Christians, and other minorities.

Labor MPs have met with some of these groups and understand their fears for families and communities left behind in Iraq.

I welcome that the Prime Minister has ruled out sending Australian combat troops to Iraq – as that would be a gravely serious step indeed.

Labor has said clearly that we don’t want Australian regular forces on the ground in Iraq.

But Labor has backed Australia’s involvement in the current humanitarian mission in Iraq.

A RESPONSIBILITY TO PROTECT

Australia should act, because as a decent international citizen we respect the doctrine of ‘responsibility to protect’.

‘Responsibility to protect’ is engaged when national authorities are unwilling or unable to protect their citizens from genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.

Former Labor foreign minister, Gareth Evans, championed the idea of ‘responsibility to protect’.

Gareth is the driver of ‘responsibility to protect’ adoption by the UN, and the leading international authority on it.

He uses a set of criteria to judge when ‘responsibility to protect’ should be engaged.

On the current question of Iraq, these principles provide Labor a very useful framework to help guide whether we support Australian involvement – both now and into the future.

1. Just cause – Is the threat a serious and irreparable harm occurring to human beings?

• News reports, and briefings provided to the Opposition by Australian security agencies, make clear that communities in northern Iraq face serious threats from Islamic State, and that thousands have already been killed.

• Representatives of Kurdish, Assyrian Christian, and other communities in Australia have argued strongly that their communities in Iraq face genocide from Islamic State, which is highly intolerant of people and communities who do not subscribe to their own extreme version of Sunni Islam, or of Sunnis who oppose their violent jihad.

2. Right intention – Is the main intention of the military action to prevent human suffering or are there other motives?

• Unlike in 2003, there is no intention for regime change of the government of Iraq by US, Australia, or other countries, nor is there any attempt by countries to gain access to Iraq’s natural resources.

3. Final resort – Has every other measure besides military invention been taken into account? (This does not mean that every measure has to have been applied and failed, but that there are reasonable grounds to believe that only military action would work in that situation)

• The Iraqi Security Forces have proven incapable of protecting the communities in northern Iraq. Islamic State has shown it will not negotiate nor follow the rules of war.

• The advice of the security agencies is that the Peshmerga, the armed forces of the Kurdistan Regional Government, in the semiautonomous Kurdistan Region of Iraq, are the major, effective armed force currently in the northern region capable of resisting Islamic State. They are effective, and they are bearing the brunt of the fighting. Because the fighting is worst in the north, that’s where our help should primarily be directed.

4. Legitimate authority • The Abbott Government has advised the Opposition that current proposed actions have been authorised by the Government of Iraq. That was confirmed yesterday by the Iraqi Ambassador to Australia.

• The support of the UN Secretary-General is also very significant. We now see countries like Canada, which didn’t participate in the invasion in 2003, agreeing to be part of this humanitarian mission.

5. Proportional means – Are the minimum necessary means applied to secure human protection?

• This criterion is readily met for humanitarian aid drops including food, water, and medicine – and I congratulate our air force and other personnel who have already completed these vital missions, saving thousands of lives on Mt Sinjar.

• As for rearming the Peshmerga – the alternative is to watch IS, using sophisticated weapons it has captured on its forward march outgun the only force that has effectively been protecting civilians in the north. We are supporting Iraqis to defend themselves against a merciless enemy. The Peshmerga has for many years provided the Kurdish region of Iraq with a degree of security much better than in many other parts of Iraq.

6. Reasonable prospect – Is it likely that action will protect human life, and are the consequences of this action sure not to be worse than no action at all? • This is perhaps the most difficult question of all, because the history of Western influence in the Middle East is fraught with complexity.

• It’s hard to point to too many examples in which intervention has left a country clearly better off, and unfortunately there are too many instances where the opposite could be said.

• We are rightly cautious, especially after Australia’s previous involvement in Iraq, which saw our brave service men and women sent to fight in the wrong place for the wrong reasons.

• But I believe the humanitarian missions we are currently involved in meet this criteria. Allowing IS to slaughter whole communities cannot be allowed, so we must respond to the Iraqi call for assistance.

Of course, ‘responsibility to protect’ really seeks to answer one key question. That is, in the face of mass atrocity crimes: genocide, war crimes, or crimes against humanity - at what point can the international community no longer stand-by and do nothing?

It is Labor’s belief, based on the assessment of facts I have just provided, that Australia and the world have a ‘responsibility to protect’ and thus an obligation to act.

To borrow a phrase made famous by our chief of army - the standard you walk past is the standard you accept. Australia could no longer walk past. We had to do something in response to such unspeakable horror.

REGIONAL ENGAGEMENT

But as important, is making sure Iraq’s neighbours do something in response too.

That means countries like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar, and others should be encouraged to stand up and say ‘IS are beyond the pale and we will join in international efforts to defeat them’.

The conflict in Syria has been an important factor underpinning the rise of IS. The spread of IS from Iraq to Syria and then back again – returning much stronger and more brutal – underscores how critical it is for nations in the region to acknowledge this problem is bigger than any one of them.

More than 191,000 people have been killed in Syria. The scale of the humanitarian disaster in Syria has seen the impacts spill over into the region. More than 9 million displaced Syrians have to go somewhere, and that has seen both Lebanon and Jordan take in millions of refugees.

The legal authority doesn’t currently exist for similar support to Syria, but we should be doing a great deal more to assist Syrians in any case.

The UN has called for $6.5 billion in aid for the Syria crisis, the largest ever appeal for funds. Australia, under the Coalition, has given just pledged just $30 million or so in aid – a pathetic response to an enormous humanitarian need.

And we have agreed to take just 2,200 refugees from Syria and 2,200 from Iraq (as part of our regular intake) when millions are displaced and at risk.

ACTION AGAINST IS, NOT ISLAM

As the Opposition Leader said earlier in the week, every action of IS is a betrayal of the millions of good people, of good conscience who follow Islam. The Islamic State does not represent the Islamic faith. That cannot be repeated often enough.

Likewise, action taken against IS is not action against Islam, and we must not allow any misrepresentation that this is the case.

By working with the international community, including countries with large Islamic populations like Indonesia and Malaysia, we can mobilise the power of mainstream Islam against minority extremism.

In fact, I note a group British Imams and scholars recently issued a Fatwa condemning Islamic State as a ‘tyrannical, extremist, heretical’ organisation committing ‘abhorrent’ massacres and persecution.

The Fatwa calls on muslims to oppose IS and follow the law of their homeland – in this case Britain.

Our own security chief, David Irvine, has stressed again and again that Australian muslims are ASIO’s best partners against violent extremists and I acknowledge the hardwork and personal cost that many Australians have borne in order to speak out against extremism.

CONCLUSION

What I have laid out today is Labor’s assessment of the situation in Iraq at this point in time.

I have explained why we have offered the Government our support for Australia’s humanitarian involvement thus far.

I have outlined the principles that will guide how Labor responds to any proposed further involvement by Australia. Labor believes there are circumstances where Australia has a responsibility to protect.

But as an opposition we also have the responsibility to question – to carefully scrutinise the approach put forward by the Government.

Labor will work constructively with the Government, but we’re no rubber stamp.

We’ll look at the facts and make sensible judgements.

National security is above politics, but such important decisions are never beyond question, interrogation, or criticism.

The decision to send Australian men and women into harm’s way should never be taken lightly, and Labor never will.

Our responsibility to the people of Iraq is to ensure any action Australia is involved in leaves the place better, not worse.

President Obama’s careful, considered response to this matter shows that maybe the international community has learned lessons from the disastrous 2003 invasion of Iraq.

ENDS

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SPEECH - Queensland ALP State Conference

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THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP

DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION

SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT

SPEECH

*** CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY ***

Queensland ALP State Conference

 

SATURDAY, 23 AUGUST 2014

BRISBANE

 

I want to start by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we gather today, and pay my respect to their elders both past and present.

Thanks Dr Jim Chalmers for that very warm welcome, and for the work you do fighting for Queenslanders on the Federal Labor frontbench.

And to my other Federal colleagues: Shayne Neumann, Jan McLucas, Bernie Ripoll, Claire Moore, Joe Ludwig, Terri Butler, Graham Perrett, Chris Ketter - every single one of them, a terrific contributor down in Canberra.

I want to say how wonderful it is to be here with Annastacia. Annastacia has been doing such a fine job in such difficult times.

There are two blokes I want to make particular mention of today.

My friend Bill Shorten would have loved to have been here today. Bill has had a difficult week, but he has had a wonderful year. Who would have thought, slightly less than a year in from the last Federal election, Tony Abbott would have had the shortest political honeymoon in Australian history.

Because like Annastacia here with Campbell Newman, Bill has been in Canberra holding Tony Abbott to account every single day.

I want to say how wonderful it is to be in my friend, Wayne Swan’s home state too. 40 years ago Wayne Swan came to Canberra and over those 40 years he has served the Labor Party in many different roles. Including as the Treasurer who saved Australia from the Global Financial Crisis, and did it to save hundreds of thousands of jobs for ordinary people. And he did it too at a time when we were able to introduce the Gonski school funding reforms, the NDIS and other great Labor reforms.

To those already in the State Parliamentary Labor Party and those of you who I have been campaigning with, who I am confident I will see there after the next election.

Local Government candidates and representatives. My union comrades. Delegates, one and all.

Rebuilding Queensland Labor

In particular I want to say how great it is to be in Brisbane. Even though I come from south of the border, we have at least one thing in common.

We both know that in politics, Opposition is the worst kind of place to be.

The difficulty of moving on from the past, while staying united as a team.

The frustration of seeing what you’ve built up being torn down by the conservatives.

The bitterness of being proven right, on all the dire predictions we made on the campaign trail.

And so it’s nothing short of remarkable, the strength that Queensland Labor has shown in the past year under Annastacia Paluszczuk’s leadership.

I also want to particularly welcome two of newer members of your state parliamentary team.

The first is a friend and old colleague of mine – Yvette D’ath, who took Redcliffe back for the ALP.

Could there be a sharper contrast than between Scott Driscoll, the disgraced former member, and Yvette D’ath?

One having to jump out of politics before he was pushed, the other such an effective campaigner and representative that she was only allowed six months off after a gruelling Federal election campaign before she was called back to public life.

And, of course, the new member for Stafford, Anthony Lynham. What a phenomenal campaign - over 4000 volunteer phone calls, almost 4000 doors knocked on, 350 volunteers on polling day. And on Election Day, a 19.1 per cent swing, carrying every booth in the electorate bar one.

But these by-elections weren't just about the quality of Labor’s candidates or the strength of our campaigns – great as they were.

Anthony Lynham met a Northsider on polling day, George, who was 81 years old. He'd never voted Labor before in his life - until that day.

And there's one more person to thank for that.

Yes, it's time to talk about Campbell Newman.

When Bill Shorten gave his Budget Reply speech this year, I had people stopping me on the street to give their thanks for voicing their anger at the unfairness.

Well - voters in Redcliffe and Stafford were the start of a twelve month "right of reply" that Queenslanders have been waiting to deliver, ever since Campbell Newman’s first budget.

Because who would have voted for the LNP if they had known that nurses and health workers in Redcliffe Hospital would be sacked after the brutal cuts to Metro North health funding, with over 1000 full-time jobs lost in Metro North alone?

Who in Stafford would have voted for them, knowing that community organisations would be gutted by cuts to the Skilling Queenslanders for Work program?

Who would have voted for them if Campbell Newman had come clean about his plans for Queensland?

Campbell Newman said when he was elected, ‘I pledge to you that we will conduct ourselves with humility, grace and dignity’.

But for that first-time Labor voter in Stafford, for George, it was the arrogance of the LNP Government that finally tipped him over the edge – the fact that on top of all of the cuts and broken promises, they just stopped listening to the people who put them there.

Which is starting to sound like a very familiar story.

Yes, it’s time to talk about Tony Abbott.

Newman and Abbott: same political strategy of broken promises and cuts

We said in the Federal election campaign that Campbell Newman was the curtain-raiser for an Abbott Federal Government.

For a playbook that has proven to be such a political train wreck, it's strange how closely Newman and Abbott have stuck to it.

  • Step one: promise from opposition that there's nothing to fear;
  • Step two: set up a commission of audit to get your marching orders from the big end of town;
  • Step three: tear up your election commitments and start cutting health and education.

Let’s take Campbell Newman:

First he tells Queensland’s public servants they have ‘nothing to fear’ and that he will ‘revitalise frontline services’.

Then in his first budget, he cuts $3 billion from the Queensland health system and sacks over 4000 health workers.

Revitalising Campbell Newman-style – ripping the guts out of public services Queenslanders rely on.

Now Tony Abbott:

Right up to Election Day, he says: 'No cuts to health, no cuts to education, no change to pensions, no new taxes’.

Then comes the National Commission of Audit, calling for cuts to health, education and essential services.

Here Tony Abbott starts to improvise on the plan – the $5 GP co-payment for concession card holders recommended by the Commission of Audit doesn’t go far enough, so he decides to push for a $7 fee.

Campbell Newman: says he’s “not a right-wing ideologue” and then sacks 14,000 Queenslanders.

Tony Abbott: says before he’s elected “the one thing that the Australian workers will find is that I am their best friend”, goes on to cut 16, 500 jobs from the public service and kills the car industry to boot.

He promised a million new jobs - We just thought some of them would be in Australia.

And for Queenslanders, it isn’t just the insult of having to sit through a re-run of this cynical political play.

Separately, they would be dangerous enough. Together, they’re a disaster for Queensland.

 

Bad separately, together a disaster

Take the impact on our health system.

Over in the United States, they are taking the long and difficult path back from a user pays health system.

But here, Campbell Newman doesn’t mind sacking nurses, closing hospital beds and pushing out waiting times.

And Tony Abbott backs up with more cuts - to hospitals, to GP services, and to prevention - the job of keeping people healthy and out of hospital.

Campbell Newman cuts, then Tony Abbott shows up with a plan for even deeper cuts.

It’s like coming down with the flu and and then getting food poisoning: bad separately, together a disaster.

Or take education.

Campbell Newman called the Gonski school funding reforms a ‘bucket of custard.’[1]

He turned his back on an extra $3.8 billion for Queensland schools, but worse he sabotaged the opportunity to create a new system which addressed the rising gap between well-off and disadvantaged students.

Now Christopher Pyne has unveiled his plans for higher education, with students paying more and getting less.

It’s true that all students are going to be worse off, but the biggest tragedy is the smart kids who’ll never make it through those university gates because of the prospect of decades of rising debt.

What happens to those kids, the bright ones born in the wrong postcode?

The ones the LNP want to keep piling handicaps on, from threats to federal cuts to preschool through the end of their schooling lives?

The cumulative effect of Newman and Abbott’s robbing of those kids is devastating.

It’s like a having a hopeless teacher and then getting stuck next to the school bully: bad separately, but together a disaster.

What they want to do to young people breaks your heart - cut TAFE, cut Youth Connections and other successful employment programs, leave them without any income at all for six months at a time if they're unlucky enough not to find work, then saddle them with a debt sentence if they want to go to uni.

The question of whether to fund university education is something that shows up the difference between us and them: they argue, why should we subsidise people with our tax money just so they can get ahead? It’s every man for himself and the Devil take the hindmost. That’s their approach.

And we respond – those future graduates we invest in, they will pay through the tax system when they’re graduates and they’ll help the next generation, and they’ll help the next generation.

Because to us in the Labor movement, health and education aren’t just businesses. They’re the right of every Australian, and reserving them for the privileged diminishes us all.

I want to tell you a story about myself.

When I was about 4 or 5 we went to Slovenia for the first time, which is where my parents are from.

When we arrived we went to my grandfather’s farm where everyone was out in the field, with their neighbours, cutting a wheat crop.

This was 40 years ago and they were cutting the wheat crop with scythes, then bundling the wheat up to dry in the sun.

When we finished working we got into a wooden cart pulled by bullocks that took us home.

I think about that first time I met my grandfather and what he would think about my life now and the opportunities that I’ve had.

The thing that strikes me most about it is he could never have imagined, 40 years ago, the jobs that exist in Australia today.

The fact that we live in a country where any kid can go to school and we have aspired to any kid being able to do post school education; TAFE, vocational education or university.

And not based on their families wealth, based on their ability and their desire and their dreams.

What will this country be like in 40 years’ time? We cannot imagine the jobs that will exist in 40 years’ time. We can’t even conceive of them today.

So we aren’t just robbing these individual kids of their opportunity, we are robbing the future prosperity of this nation if we don’t invest in education.

 

Why we care

Each of us has a different story about what makes us Labor.

I think of my dad. He migrated to Australia and worked here in Queensland for a while, cutting cane and helping build big sugar silos.

It was hard work and he worked hard at it. And he felt the effects of that strain and the cement dust on his lungs for years after he’d moved on.

It was important to him that he could provide for his family, and he told me that’s why he was always part of the union.

Instead of going it alone, being part of a union meant he knew he could rely on decent wages and conditions that had some dignity.

I think of my mum. She came to Australia in her early twenties with no English and worked in factories, before raising us.

I think of the choices my mum and dad made, raising me and my brothers.

We didn't have a lot of money, but all I ever had to say was "it's educational" for them to hand over the money they worked so hard to save.

They never resented paying tax so other people could go to university as Christopher Pyne says, because those "other people" were their kids – we were the first generation to have that chance.

I cannot tolerate a vision of Australia where we are the last generation to have that chance.

Each of us has a different story about why we're Labor, but we share the same vision for the kind of Australia we want to live in.

When I was elected, I said that I was proud to live in a country where your birth is not your destiny.

And together, as a movement, we can protect and build on that vision.

We've done it before - we're a party that values our history and the great Labor reforms of the past, like Medicare and superannuation.

And more importantly we'll do it again, because our party is the party of building the future.

And as bad as Campbell Newman and Tony Abbott are individually, and as toxic as they are in combination, by that same degree Labor working together in State and Federal government can change Queensland for the better.

And that's the reason Annastacia and her team have been working every day to hold the Newman Government to account.

And that's why Bill and his Federal team has been working every single day to take on Tony Abbott.

 

Conclusion

A British Prime Minister, the Earl of Derby, once said: "The duty of an Opposition is very simple... to oppose everything, and propose nothing."

Of course, Lord Derby was a Tory. That was Tony Abbott’s approach.

Labor knows that we are only worthy of regaining government because of our hopes and aspirations – because of what we stand for:

  • a decent wage, and strong rights at work – the purpose of a thriving economy, not the barrier to it.
  • a health system where patients are treated on need, not triaged on the size of their wallets.
  • schools where every kid can get a great education, and where a difficult childhood doesn’t mean you are lost for the rest of your life.

We will face up to the challenge of climate change, because the political costs of today are nothing compared to the real costs we’re leaving to our kids and grandkids.

And we won’t stop until everybody has the same rights – no matter the colour of your skin, or the gender of the person you love.

We stand for an Australia where:

  • If you become homeless, you don’t become invisible.
  • If your child is born with a disability, you aren’t on your own.
  • If you lose your job and can’t make ends meet, you can lean on us while you look for work - and then you in turn help others.

Delegates, we know that prosperity and justice only come together when we work together.

That’s the Labor way, that’s the kind of Australia we stand for, and that’s why we’re taking the fight up to Campbell Newman and Tony Abbott.

And Queensland – it starts with you. I’ll see you on the campaign trail.

ENDS

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SPEECH - 2014 ACTU National Women's Conference

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THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP

DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION

SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT

SPEECH

*** CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY ***

2014 ACTU NATIONAL WOMEN’S CONFERENCE

THURSDAY, 21 AUGUST 2014

 I want to start by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet today, and pay my respect to elders both past and present.

Thank you Aunty Joy Murphy for providing the welcome to country.

I also want to acknowledge all of the activists from the union movement here in the room, including the ACTU Women’s Committee who have organised this conference.

Thank you Ged for your words and your welcome – it’s easy to see that the union movement has a strong future with you at the helm.

It is particularly important that this conference is gathering today, a week after figures emerged from the Australian Bureau of Statistics that the gender pay gap in Australia is actually growing.

The average man now earns 18.2 per cent, or $283.20 per week, more than a woman doing comparable work.

When we hear that the gender pay gap is at a 20-year high, it’s easy to feel angry that women's work isn't valued properly, a fact even harder to stomach when we are then told we live in a post-feminist world.

That's when we need more than ever to spend time in the company of other union women, to celebrate our strength and most importantly to organise for change.

 

History of trade union women

It’s also worth taking a moment to remember the past.

Muriel Heagney was the daughter of one of the founding members of the ALP and a lifelong campaigner for equal pay for clothing workers.

In the 1930s, rising unemployment in the Great Depression gave rise to a campaign to get women out of the workforce.

Heagney responded by helping found the Council of Action of Equal Pay, saying:

‘a woman’s right to work rests not on the number of her dependents, nor on the fact that she does or does not compete with men, but in the absolute right of a free human being, a taxpayer and a voter, to economic independence.

Of course Heagney faced stiff resistance: from employers, from wider society, and from within some parts of the trade union movement itself.

But that basic driving principle - that women’s rights at work are human rights worth fighting for - kept her campaigning for change throughout her life.

As Edna Ryan, one of the feminists she inspired, said, ‘Muriel was a real goer, she never missed a trick.’

Muriel first called for a standard minimum wage for men and women in a submission to the Arbitration court in 1923. It would be over 50 years, in 1974, that the National Wage Case decision granted women an adult minimum wage.

Muriel lived to see that great result of her decades of activism – but survived just a week after the decision. She must have been hanging on for it.

For her to see, after half a century, her call for equality at last becoming law, it must have felt bittersweet.

To win the fight for formal pay equity, and yet to see that substantive equality was still a far way off.

Of course, Muriel was a pioneer, but she was never on her own. She was an inspiration and she was part of a movement:

  • Kath Williams, who had to quit being a teacher twice each time she got married in the 1930s and 40s, who drove the equal pay campaign within the Victorian trade union movement, leading to the ACTU congress in 1953 agreeing to establish equal pay committees in each State.
  • Jenny Acton, the ACTU advocate in the 1985 claim for nurses’ salaries to be increased to put them on par with similar occupations like firefighters and police. Some of you might remember the campaign that accompanied that case, with women boarding Melbourne buses and trams bound for the Commission and paying only 67 cents of the $1 fare, because they were only making 67% of the male wage.
  • Anna Booth, who would become ACTU Vice President after pushing for equal pay for clothing workers in the 1980s and 90s. She helped broker deals with clothing brands and retailers who promised to only deal with suppliers who paid their workers properly.

 

Modern union activism and Labor in government

It’s a line of activism that runs right to the present day.

I remember when Julia Gillard was Prime Minister in 2011, meeting unionists at the forefront of the equal pay case run by the Australian Services Union.

I met Maree, a delegate who had spent her life contributing to the labour movement as an active unionist, and contributing to her community running local neighbourhood services.

Yet her work was still not given equal value because it was caring work – ‘women’s work’.

Maree became an active and passionate equal pay advocate, in a campaign that forged a personal relationship between her and Julia Gillard.

I remember talking with Maree that day, and then walking straight into an auditorium full of delegates and organisers, where Julia announced the federal government would provide $3 billion to fund our share of equal pay for social and community sector workers.

To me, it felt like the labour movement at our best: unions organising working people to achieve real change, and the parliamentary wing living up to its history and its purpose.

And I was grateful to have many moments like that as member of the Labor Government, working towards gender equality:

  • The strengthened Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Act 2012 which allows the Government to set industry-specific minimum standards and requires companies to report on the composition of their governing bodies like boards;
  • $22.4 billion to make quality early childhood education and care more affordable and accessible;
  • Giving workers the right to request flexible work arrangements from their employer after having a child, if they are experiencing domestic violence, or if they have caring responsibilities.

 

Tony Abbott and the Federal Budget

Only a few years later, and we live in a very different political moment.

It won’t surprise you to learn that our minister for women, Tony Abbott, hasn't said much about the widening gender pay gap.

Instead his ideology, laid bare in this year's budget, seems designed to make economic inequality worse.

The Labor movement built superannuation and helped build up workers’ retirement savings.

Abbott’s budget cut the Low Income Superannuation Contribution, stopped our increase to superannuation, and gave back tax breaks for wealthy individuals and companies.

When Labor was in government, we committed to funding wage increases for aged care workers and early childhood educators. We knew that the work that these professionals did – caring work – was undervalued.

The Abbott Government tore up these wage increases as soon as they got into office, and in the budget they cut funding to early childhood education even further, including cutting all federal funding for preschool.

The Labor Party and the union movement together fought for and built our first national paid parental leave scheme – which Abbott at one point said would be ‘over my dead body’.

In trying to persuade him we should have been careful what we wished for – now as a late convert, Abbott wants to introduce his own scheme which pays the most money to the richest Australians, and he plans to fund it by cutting pensions and wage increases for underpaid workers.

 

The agenda for the union movement today

At this moment, with a widening gender pay gap and a conservative government making the challenge of inequality worse, the union movement is needed more than ever.

Over these next two days, you will sharpen the union movement’s strategy to deliver for working women.

You will need to talk about what you want, and as organisers you know that means tapping into what makes you angry:

  • The gender pay gap means that in a 38 hour working week, women who start at 9am, by 3.38pm every day are working for free.
  • According to the Australian Human Rights Commission, the number of people who reported having being sexually harassed in the workplace actually increased between 2008 and 2012 – most of them were women, and most people reported having been harassed in the workplace. Better reporting often means people have the confidence for the first time to complain about behavior that has been common and acceptable in the past, but how are we responding to this increase in the reports?
  • The rise of insecure work in Australia and around the world is leaving women with fewer rights and less economic independence. The ACTU’s own inquiry in 2011 revealed stories like the Sydney women working casually in the textiles sector who were paid piece rates that amount to $4 to $5 per hour to produce garments with a retail value of up to $1,000.

As well as setting your agenda for the future, you also need to spend some time reflecting on the wins you have had, and drawing strength from each other:

  • Acknowledge the women who have built strong organizing campaigns in their unions, as well as the women who have stepped up as delegates and activists to grow our movement.
  • Share ideas about what has worked and what hasn’t; learn from and mentor each other; build on the network of women unionists that spans every industry across the country.

Because chances are you will need those friendships in the years ahead.

Joyce Barry was a tram conductress for 27 years before she finally became the first a qualified female tram driver in 1975.

It wasn’t just the sexist attitudes in the community which stood in her way. The final and biggest hurdle for her to overcome was her union’s ban on women tram drivers, in a high-profile campaign that drew on the solidarity of the broader labour and women’s movements to finally succeed.

Joyce Barry, reflecting on the campaign, said: ‘I’ve stuck rigidly to one thing – that I wanted this done so that girls had equal opportunities in the structures of our union.’

Making sure that our union movement reflects the diversity of its membership, right up to its leadership, is just one of the many challenges that require union women to work together.

Together, you can build better unions, better workplaces, and a better Australian community.

 

Conclusion

Today I wanted to pay tribute to some of the women who have been part of the trade union movement’s history, like Muriel Heagney and Joyce Barry.

I want to pay tribute to some other union women.

Ged Kearney, leading the ACTU and the national conversation on insecure work.

Sharan Burrow, re-elected this year as the General Secretary of the 170-million member International Trade Union Confederation.

And our future union women leaders, some of them in this room.

Australia has a proud history of women leading the fight for economic and gender equality, and I know it has a bright future too.

So I wish you all the best for the conference over the next two days: I hope it propels you to make your mark on Australia’s workplaces and our country.

I know you’ll leave them the better for it.

 

 

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SPEECH - The Good Fight Book Launch

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THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP

DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION

SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
MEMBER FOR SYDNEY

 

*** CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY ***

 

THE GOOD FIGHT BOOK LAUNCH  – MONDAY, 18 AUGUST 2014

 

Thank you Ian and others from ANU for having us today. I’d like to start by also acknowledging the traditional owners of the land that we’re meeting on today and pay my respects to their elders past and present.

I want to say how good it is to be with a couple of my colleagues today, Andrew Leigh the Doobie Howzer economics professor. And Jim Charlmers who of course worked very closely with Wayne in order to fight off the Global Financial Crisis.

While Joe Hockey was preparing to deliver his first budget in May, a budget that unravelled Australia’s social fabric, he listened to a song called Best day of my life by American Authors.

The “best day of my life” for Joe Hockey was the day he cut the pension, it was the day he broke the promise “no cuts to health, no cuts to education and no new taxes.”

Wayne listens to music on budget days too. And you could have guessed if you already know Wayne, his music was “Born to Run”, the song Bruce Springsteen says was the “dividing line between the carefree concerns of his youth and the political concerns of his adulthood.”

Wayne wrote about the song, and about his musical hero in his 2012 John Button lecture, which is an appendix to this book. He quoted Bruce Springsteen:

“… the stress and tension of my father’s and mother’s life that came with the difficulties of trying to make ends meet – influenced my writing. I had a reaction to my own good fortune. I asked myself new questions. I felt a sense of accountability to the people I’d grown up alongside of.”

That, in a nutshell, is Wayne Swan too.

When he was framing his six budgets, Wayne never forgot the people he grew up alongside of. And it was those people, his brothers and sister, the men he knew who lost their jobs in the last recession, even Craig Midgley, who he had met at the Penrith Community Cabinet who are the constant characters in this book. Wayne says of Craig Midgley:

“stuck up his hand and spoke of the financial pressures on families like his, on a reasonable income but struggling to make ends meet… I sat there thinking, ‘What do we say and do for people like Craig Midgley if there’s a global economy meltdown that pushes unemployment through the roof?’ ”.

In The Good Fight, Wayne tells the compelling story of how he and the government responded to the greatest economic crisis to befall Australia in 80 years.

But it’s not just about how Australia avoided recession. It’s about why Wayne cared so much about keeping Australians working. The how and the why. This book is as much a reflection of Wayne’s values as it is about the technical aspects of the decisions that he took which gave Australia the stand-out economy during the Global Financial Crisis.

Wayne describes inheriting an Australian economy challenged with growing inflation.

He came to office determined to cut spending to tackle the inflationary challenge he’d been left by the profligacy of the Howard years: the permanent spending paid for by temporary windfalls from the mining boom; the infrastructure bottlenecks; rising interest rates and rising cost of living.

Instead, just months into his new role the whispers started coming from the United States that their economy might be in trouble. He describes the uncertainty, the worry, the difficulties of preparing for the worst while not causing a panic that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The account of the GFC in the Good Fight has more tension than your average thriller – at least for budget tragics like us.

You really get the sense from reading this book how close Australia came to the brink – waiting for the quarterly number which would tell us whether we had gone into recession like the rest of the OECD.

And in reading you recall the querulous opposition to stimulus – Joe Hockey saying we should follow the New Zealand path, into recession presumably. And Tony Abbott sleeping through crucial votes on the stimulus packages.

Of course Wayne was a victim of his own success. He never received, and the Rudd and Gillard governments never received, credit from the public for the economic management that protected Australia from the recession. You don’t feel the bullet you dodged. But there is no word of complaint on that score in this book.

Wayne never complains that while the world was feting him as “finance minister of the year” the Liberals and their media cheer squad were calling for less action to protect jobs and keep the Australian economy from falling into recession.

And in keeping with this, Wayne’s greatest failing, throughout the book he gives credit to others for the internationally lauded success of Australia’s stimulus: he credits Ken Henry with the “go early, go hard, go households” advice; he talks at length about Kevin Rudd’s tireless work to make the G20 the premier decision making body for co-ordinating global efforts to fight the GFC; he speaks warmly about his public servants and personal staff; and he gives credit to any number of business figures in Australia and around the world for the insights that they gave him into the real economy globally. He always talks about what Australians did to avoid the GFC, giving credit to working people, to their employers, to unions and to others but never taking it for himself.

Wayne’s greatest failing may be his modesty. There are times when this book actually made me cringe because Wayne’s criticism of himself and the errors he believes he made are so excoriatingly honest. I know his critics will selectively quote his own insights and use his self-awareness and honesty as ammunition against him.

If only Joe Hockey or Tony Abbott had one tenth of Wayne’s insight and honesty. Instead we’ve got this bombastic defence of a deeply unfair and unpopular budget; all bluster and machismo; none of Wayne’s attention to detail. In fact it struck me at the time the fact that Joe Hockey didn’t know that chronically ill patients would pay the $7 GP co-payment shows how little attention he paid to the detail of his own budget.

You get an incredible sense from the book about how seriously Wayne took each budget.

Each one was prepared for the times: to set up the Australian economy for the challenges ahead.

You can feel the weight of responsibility on his shoulders as he works to “get the big calls right”.

The challenge presented by the GFC is rightly the main concern of this book, as it was the main preoccupation of our first years in government. Wayne talks of Rahm Emmanuel’s advice: “never waste a crisis”. Our stimulus was designed first and foremost to keep people working, to keep confidence up, to keep the economy ticking over. But it also had the benefit of upgrading every school in Australia, building new public transport, building public housing and any number of other good things besides.

Wayne talks also of how important it is was to walk and chew gum at the same time. Our pre-occupation with the GFC didn’t let us off the hook when it came to the other big reforms that had been so neglected during the Howard years: we delivered the biggest increase to pensions ever; the National Disability Insurance Scheme, two reforms that were delivered by Wayne in partnership with his good friend Jenny Macklin. The Health Reforms which Kevin Rudd as PM and Nicola Roxon worked so hard on; and the Gonski School Funding reforms begun by Julia Gillard as Education minister and that were finally delivered by Peter Garrett. All of these most important reforms for Australia’s future.

Wayne’s recalls Keatings advice that fighting for, and achieving, the big, transformative national schemes like superannuation is what politics is all about.

And of course sometimes those big changes are very hard.

In 2010, as he thought about the importance of introducing a Resource Super Profits Tax, he remembered the advice he’d heard many years earlier from his first boss when he came to Canberra almost 40 years as a political adviser.

Bill Hayden had told him that the long-term reforms are almost always fiercely contested, and he said “you rarely get them to stick the first time around. You have to persevere and persevere. Medicare and Medibank are the classic examples.”

In decades to come this book will be studied to understand how, almost uniquely among developed countries, Australia avoided recession during the time of the Global Financial Crisis. You could use it as a text book for Keynsian economics.

But there’s another question answered here too.

Wayne says in his Button Lecture that Springsteen’s songs ask an abiding question: “when are ordinary people – the people who get up in the morning, work hard and look after their families, going to get a fair go?”

Wayne’s six years as Treasurer were about answering that question.

 

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SPEECH - The Confucius Institute

Confucius Institute Speech

University of New South Wales

Tuesday 12 August 2014

Sydney

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In my last speech on China, which I gave in June to the US Studies Centre Alliance 21 Conference, I argued we all have a responsibility to avert conflict by cooperating to achieve win-win outcomes.[1]  I spoke about the importance of our relationships with both China and the US, and said that Australia must not find itself in a position of having to choose between two good friends.

Today want to speak more specifically on the diplomatic relations between Australia and China.

 

HISTORY OF CHINA’S INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS

China’s foreign relations is historically characterised by dedication and patience.

In the 15th century, Zheng He was a pioneer of Chinese diplomacy.  As a six and a half foot tall Muslim eunuch, one could say he was a surprising match for a historical leadership role.  His close relationship with the Ming Dynasty’s Yongle Emperor, as a trusted adviser and confidant, led to him to ultimately direct the “new Treasure Fleet” of 317 junks crewed by 27,000 men on seven voyages.

During these voyages he visited what are now the modern day states of Indonesia, Malaysia, India, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Kenya.  He brought with him tea, porcelain, and silk as tributes.

Legends remember him as China’s greatest mariner, who returned from Africa with a giraffe, an ostrich and a zebra.  Depictions of his voyages and the legends surrounding them were represented in the Beijing Olympic opening ceremony in 2008.

China was practicing modern diplomacy and projecting soft power long before modern times, and China now holds up Zheng He as the exemplar of its peaceful rise and its model of peaceful engagement with the world.

China continues this tradition and its innovative and forward thinking in its own foreign policy.

China shows leadership in South-south and BRICS forums.  Although it does not follow traditional donor-recipient norms, China has a very extensive aid program in Africa.  Investments of time and funds that China is making in these relations now are expected to pay off in the future.

45 years ago, in July 1971, then Opposition leader, Gough Whitlam, undertook an historic visit to China.  Whitlam’s visit, and his advocacy of recognition of the PRC are the foundation of Australia’s modern diplomatic relations with China.

More recently, former Prime Minister Julia Gillard recognised the need for regular and formalised dialogue with the Chinese leadership on key strategic and economic issues in order to strengthen political trust and understanding.  The establishment of a strategic partnership and a new bilateral architecture to guide the future of the relationship was an important accomplishment of our time in government.

Years of building relations and breaking down barriers have demanded unwavering dedication and persistence from world leaders.  This year in November, former Prime Minister Bob Hawke will make his 100th trip to China just in time for the 40th anniversary of ASEAN.

There is an unchanging purpose beneath the surface of thousands of years of diplomatic efforts – an investment that has as its return a safer and brighter future for both our nations.

In Hard Choices, former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton describes these returns.  She details the years she spent negotiating with and forming a close personal relationship with her Chinese counterpart, Dai Bingguo and she reminisces of the occasion on which he showed her a picture of his granddaughter and said, “This is what we’re in it for.”[2]

 

MODERN CHINA AND CURRENT CHANGING LANDSCAPE

We have entered a new era of relations with China.  We are no longer just working to understand each other, we are interpreting China’s changing place in the world and repositioning Great Powers and Middle Powers within a new world order; we are working out where we stand, where China stands, and what that means.

There are two very contrasting sides to China’s emergence and we have to understand the significance of both sides.  China’s external face is one which projects increasing strength in the region and appears to be a rising world power.  But parallel to this external appearance, China’s domestic landscape is still facing immense challenges; the scale of these challenges is difficult for us to imagine even when you think that China has four cities with populations equal to that of the whole of Australia’s.

China’s “economic miracle” has brought new challenges to China’s population and leadership.  China has lifted millions of its citizens out of poverty giving way to a middle class with rising expectations to match their already rising standards of living.

The middle class wants better education, better healthcare, cleaner cities, jobs for their children, and of course a better future for their grandchildren.  And in the face of these rising expectations, China faces a set of development challenges – the pollution that comes with rapid growth and industrialisation, growing need for fiscal and structural reforms, and of course the challenges that come with a rapidly aging population.

President XI Jinping has articulated a response to this through his “China Dream” narrative which is essentially a call for greater equality in development and greater delivery for all citizens out of the miracles of China’s economy.

There have also been unintended consequences of China’s progress.

Jiang Rong, winner of the 2007 Man Asian literary award, gives a fictionalised account of the time he spent living with the nomadic herdsmen of Inner Mongolia in the 1970s.[3]  In Wolf Totem Jiang uses the destruction of a population of wolves as a powerful symbol of China’s traditional nomadic lifestyle giving way to development and urbanisation in the grasslands.

He likens the nomadic herdsmen’s suffering to that of China’s Last Emperor as their way of life ends and the ten thousand year old grassland is destroyed.

He writes of the Party cadres who come from Beijing and kill the wolves using modern weapons and motorised vehicles.  The key is that they’ve done this with good intentions – the cadres see the wolves as a danger to herdsman and sheep.  They also see the benefits of meat and pelts to the population.  Unintentionally, it is the cadres’ action that causes imbalance in the ecosystem of the grassland and the book ends with a Beijing dust storm caused by increased desertification following the destruction of the grasslands.

Personally, I was heartened earlier this year to see for myself the new trees which have been widely planted throughout the outskirts of Beijing.  These trees, along with other groundcover have been responsible for greatly reducing the size and scale of dust storms, and serve as prevention against further desertification.

The story of development everywhere in the world includes unintended consequences, and China has been no exception.  China’s capacity to respond to challenges on a scale we find difficult to imagine is remarkable.

What does this mean for our relations with China?  Australia can find common ground in challenges confronting both of us.

We too need a better response to the pollution that causes climate change.

We too need to continue making structural reforms to our economy, while simultaneously keeping unemployment low.

We too need to find new ways to ensure socially democratic values protect us against growing inequality.

We have more in common than meets the eye – and often it is our shared challenges which offer us the best opportunity to unite.

Inequality threatens us all.  Development without inclusive growth is false progress.  As our modern governments grapple with inequality, and Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century flies off bookshelves worldwide, we can look at what Confucius said on inequality:

“I have always heard that what worries the head of a state or the chief of a clan is not poverty but inequality, not the lack of population, but the lack of peace.  For if there is equality, there will be no poverty, and where there is peace, there is no lack of population.”[4]

Confucius said that 2500 years ago and it still resonates today when you consider our common timeless and borderless challenges.

 

RESPONSIBILITY OF BOTH SIDES

With China's heightened power comes heightened responsibility.

China will have to be a greater participant in the global economy and the systems of global governance.  It will have to be a constructive participant.  It will have to be a leader.

The rest of the world also has a responsibility.  We have a responsibility to make room for China as it rises, acknowledging its long proud history and growing economic importance to the world economy.  We have a responsibility to do this in a way that is true to our values.  We have the responsibility to see through the presentation of a false “choice” between the US and China.  We have a responsibility to see China’s rise with an open mind, and see that China’s economic growth is good for all of us.

We both have a responsibility as Australians and citizens of China to make a greater effort to understand each other.

We are all a part of this – and our relations have greater depth with each additional layer of society which engages in cross cultural Australia-China interests.  Good relations require the participation of students, business, and civil society.  They require businesses to invest over the long period, and the exchange of students and tourists in both directions.

No layer will find it easy or natural – language students from Australia will continue to struggle with their tones, Chinese tourists will continue to think sweet Australian breakfast items are disgusting, and business people will continue to be confused by the foreign norms guiding their counterparts.

Pierre Ryckmans, who passed away in Canberra this week, is an example of someone whose close engagement with China was a lifelong pursuit.  A sinologist and translator, he published under the pseudonym Simon Leys, and dedicated his life to the study of Chinese language and culture from a very young age.  It is that sort of lifetime dedication that leads us to better understand each other.

Fortunately, we can be driven by the adventure as well as the challenges ahead – as long as there are Beijing hutong alleyways unexplored by Australian visitors and pristine Australian beaches which Chinese tourists have not laid eyes on, our work is not over.

This work doesn’t start and end with governments and leaders, but as leaders we think at all times about the world our grandchildren will inherit and how working towards peace and prosperity today will benefit them in the future.



[2] Clinton, H 2014 Hard Choices, p 82

[3] Jiang, R 2008 Wolf Totem

[4] The Analects of Confucius

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AmCham Business Briefing

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AmCham Business Briefing – Tuesday 5 August 2014    

Tanya Plibersek, Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Development

In large ways and small, the history and future of Australia and the United States are knitted together.

From General Douglas MacArthur’s decision in 1942 to make his base as Supreme Commander South‑West Pacific in Brisbane, to the individual ties between our people and our troops.

MacArthur told Curtin:

“… we two, you and I, will see this thing through together . . . You take care of the rear and I will handle the front.”

That’s an example of a very large connection.

Ambassador John Berry captured beautifully a smaller, more personal bond between the US and Australia in his recent speech to the National Press Club.

John explained that his father fought during World War Two as part of the 1st  Marine Division in the battle of Guadalcanal.

After the hardship of six months’ fighting, they were sent to Australia to rest and recuperate, and were reminded, he said, that there was good left in the world.

Ambassador Berry said:

“When the ships carrying the Marines arrived in Australia, they were met by a band playing Waltzing Matilda. It was the sweetest sound any of them had ever heard. So profound was this event that to this day, whenever and wherever the 1st Division Marines ship out, they do so to the sound of Waltzing Matilda.”

Our shared history goes back before the Australian Federation in 1901. The 1854 Eureka Stockade was a character forming moment for Australia. Among the rebels there were two hundred Americans, the Independent Californian Rangers.

Years later, the strategic links that developed in World War Two continued and deepened with the ANZUS treaty in 1951 and have remained tight ever since.

In recent years, Australian leaders have worked closely with their US counterparts.

Prime Minister Paul Keating persuaded President Bill Clinton of the importance of creating a leaders’ summit for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was key in President Obama’s thinking on forming the G20 leaders’ summit in 2009.

You might remember the news footage of Prime Minister Julia Gillard throwing a football around the Oval Office with President Obama – to the consternation of their staff, but without breaking anything.

Our business links are also close. The US is our third largest two-way trading partner in goods and services, totalling $55 billion a year. The US is the largest investor in Australia.

Our links are long, they are deep and they are sincere.

As well as our enduring history of shared values, our commitment to democracy, our good understanding of one another, we share some challenges.

In the United States, hyperpartisanship is preventing America from fulfilling its role as the “indispensible nation” that plays such a big part helping build peace and helping solve problems globally.

In Australia, there are times when we’re taking a short-sighted, short-term approach to similar problems, problems such as climate change and inclusive economic growth, instead of working internationally to address them.

Working together to tackle global challenges

Australia has historically played a larger role on the world stage than would be expected from our population of 23 million people. We’ve helped shape global institutions of cooperation such as the United Nations, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund.

As a small nation in terms of population, we have always understood that some problems are too large for us to tackle on its own. So we have been keen to enlist support from others.

Australia played a key role persuading the United States and others to elevate the status of the G20 group of major economies to tackle the Global Financial Crisis, because Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Treasurer Wayne Swan understood that co‑ordinated global action would be required to deal with the threat of the worst economic down turn in three quarters of a century.

I’m worried that in both the United States and Australia at the moment there are some who put short-term domestic political gain above these coordinated efforts to meet the large challenges that face us as a globe.

The challenge of hyperpartisanship in the United States

Partisan politics in the US Congress is as acute as any of us have ever seen.

The refusal of the Congress to support the UN Convention on Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and reforms to the voting rules for the International Monetary Fund are a couple of examples of hyperpartisanship. Neither is particularly controversial on its own. Yet for what seem to be political reasons they’re stuck in the Congress.

There’s also the more complex question of the Congress’s response to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

The TPP is the key economic element of President Obama’s ‘pivot to Asia’. It could be a catalyst for binding countries together more tightly – reducing trade barriers among most of Asia’s major economies and reinforcing rules on free and open trade.

But support for the TPP among both Democrats and Republicans is weak, and China is seeking its own trade agreement with its neighbours in the region.

Congress’s failure to agree on changing the rules of the International Monetary Fund to give a greater say to Asian countries weakens the argument that as Asian countries grow, their responsibility to take part in global institutions also grows. Critics in China, Indonesia and Singapore see this as a sign that the West will never let them share real power in global institutions.

The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which the US Senate has refused to sign, defines the rights and responsibilities of nations in using the world’s oceans. The US already abides by these very rules. There’s nothing controversial about them and the US is prepared to do the right thing, but the refusal to sign up sends a signal that the US doesn’t want to be bound by the rules it says we should all live by.

When we’re asking other nations to abide by a rules-based international framework, it is important that we show that we value and support that framework ourselves.

A multilateral rules-based system is our best hope of reducing conflict. But countries have to feel they have a say, that they have buy-in to those systems. They have to feel that they’ve had some say in how the rules have been developed and how they are applied.

The US has been at times the leader and proudest advocate of establishing and following those rules and norms, and it would be a shame for short sighted domestic politics to undermine that proud history.

Short-sighted, short-term politics in Australia

In Australia, we’re making some similar very short-term and ill-advised decisions.

The G20 meeting in Brisbane in November provides two examples.

In its efforts to shape the agenda for the G20, our government refuses to put climate change and inequality on the agenda.

This government is arguing that climate change is not a critical issue for the economy. It’s not a credible argument.

During the World Economic Forum in Switzerland in December 2013, Prime Minister Abbott said that adding climate change to the agenda of the G20 was “clutter”.

Nobody expects the G20 to be the meeting where people make binding commitments or talk about exactly how each country is going to reduce its climate emissions, but what the G20 can achieve is a statement that the G20 members understand that this is a pressing economic issue.

By contrast, the US is setting a very good example on this issue. The Americans want climate change to be on the agenda. Every European ambassador I’ve spoken to is keen for it to be on the agenda.

More than a billion people now live in a country or region that has a price on carbon pollution.

President Obama's plan actively encourages cap-and-trade programs to be developed and implemented by American states and industries.

California, the world’s 8th largest economy, has had a cap and trade program since the start of 2013. More states are moving in that direction.

Two highly respected former Secretaries of the Treasury – Robert Rubin in the Clinton Administration and Henry Paulsen, who served President George W Bush – have both endorsed a price on carbon pollution in recent weeks.

To have world leaders talking about equality, inequality, the brake on economic development that comes with growing inequality, wouldn’t suit the domestic political agenda.

The G20 should also address inclusive growth – which means tackling inequality.

It’s predictable perhaps that I would argue the moral case against growing inequality, but there is also an ever increasing weight of evidence for the economic case that inequality retards growth.

Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz points out how inequality weakens economic performance.

He argues that high inequality is causing huge waste of human talent, because the poor and increasingly the middle class lack access to good education. Inequality leads to lost productivity.

He argues that inequality fosters financial crisis.

He argues that inequality lowers consumption and demand – because the very rich save more than they spend.

He argues that high inequality reduces tax revenue – as the very rich are pretty good at reducing their tax.

Thomas Piketty’s exhaustive research shows that this inequality gap is getting much larger.

The International Monetary Fund published a paper which showed that lower inequality drives faster and more durable growth, and redistribution is generally benign in its impact on growth, except when taken to extremes.

The OECD is not noted for its radical approach to economics. Yet its research shows income inequality in OECD, rich world, countries is at its highest level for the past half century. The average income of the richest 10 per cent of the population is about nine times that of the poorest 10 per cent across the OECD, a seven-fold increase from 25 years ago. There are some very unequal countries in that group, whose inequality is disguised by those average figures.

The communique from last year’s G20 meeting stressed the importance of balanced, inclusive and sustainable growth. But after the G20 finance ministers’ meeting here in Sydney, in February, the word ‘inclusive’ was dropped.

So we see that there is a retreat from this idea of inclusive growth.

Inclusive growth is not a partisan agenda, when you have the IMF and the OECD talking about the benefits of reducing inequality, it’s not a fringe issue, it’s mainstream.

The reason it’s not on the agenda for the G20 is because the reception of this year’s Budget has been very poor, and the reason why it’s been poor is there’s a general perception in the community that it’s not a fair budget.

Conclusion

Australia and the United States are great friends and partners. Part of having a great partnership is our ability to tell each other the truth. We have more latitude to be frank when we support each other on nearly every issue.

We will continue to be involved in each other’s present and future in big ways and small.

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