On September 11, 2001 we began negotiating with terrorists. Since then, the primary priority of every election, every global summit, and every budget has been dictated by a small group of violent terrorists. The G20 (PDF KB) proved that recently and it showed that Peter Costello and John Howard are no more prepared to provide leadership on global issues than Kim Beazley.
Tony Blair and Gordon Brown set the bar in 2005. They took the opportunity to challenge the wealthiest nations at the G-8 and made Africa and climate change the agenda for Gleneagles. But where was Peter Costello’s leadership at the G20? He was looking for some good media grabs about petrol prices for those aspirational voters around Christmas time.
Instead of taking this opportunity to advance issues of justice for the global poor, Peter Costello was as much out of touch as the protestors, who were looking for a bit of self-indulgent violence in the name of anarchy. Or against french fries. Or anti-Americanism. Or maybe it was for the inalienable right to toe jam? Viva! Long live the revolution … or something.
Australia is the lucky country. We are prosperous and privileged, and have inherited “golden soil and wealth for toil”. Our economy is booming on the back of our resources, but when it comes to us making a contribution back to global community, we slink behind (PDF 31KB) nearly everybody else. While our GDP per capita is 11th from the 22 OECD countries, Australia’s aid budget per capita has dropped from 12th in 2000 to our current ranking at 19, with no strategy of increasing aid to meet our 2015 Millennium Development Goal targets.
Yet the violent agenda of small groups of terrorists around the world has encouraged the US to spend $400 billion on what neocons are beginning to acknowledge is a mistake. And as if contagious, mindless violence has continued to spread unabated around the world, in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Darfur, Tonga, not to mention the ongoing threat in places like East Timor and Papua New Guinea. The common factors are poverty, the vast gap between rich and poor, and the concentration of power and resources with a select minority.
The Conservative response will be to wax lyrical about the trickle down affects of trade, and how free trade provides incentives for entrepreneurship and innovation, which isn’t all wrong. Trade with developing countries is a key factor in their development, but the reality is that the benefits don’t always trickle down far enough. The lack of infrastructure, such as roads and transport, makes it impossible for some people in remote areas to access markets. And when they do there are barriers to entry like US and Australian agricultural tariffs and import restrictions.
Further to this, the structures set up by the World Trade Organisation benefit the wealthy nations, which take enormous delegations to negotiations, engaging in parallel talks to the disadvantage of the poorer nations. A recent UN report detailed, “the failure of the global trading system to deliver prosperity and economic development for the African poor. By most measures, Africa is poorer, less industrialised and less of a contributor to world trade than (the Uruguay Round) in 1986.”
But John Howard and Peter Costello just don't get it. They cannot understand that poverty, climate change and terrorism are part of the same global equation. At a logical level, it is no coincidence that the London bombings and the G8 discussions on Africa and climate change intersected on July 7, 2005. Trade isn’t the sole solution. Terrorism, which predates Islam, finds recruits from among the world's most impoverished and desperate people. And poor people will continue to log native forests and use cheap and dirty, fossil fuel to aid their development, exacerbating the affects of climate change.
The 900 per cent increase in aid spending on law and order measures is symptomatic of a world where poverty and inequality go hand in hand with an inability to access markets due to lack of infrastructure. Military measures are expensive and an ineffective way to address the symptoms but not the disease. However, simply honouring our commitment to increase aid and reduce debt will facilitate an increase in trade and lead to a reduction in global unrest and terrorism. And it's simple because it's possible. Australians currently spend more on their pets than they spend in aid each year.
And still the facts remain: 30,000 children die every day of preventable causes. Fourteen thousand young people (PDF 36KB) at the Make Poverty History concert in Melbourne on November 17 understood these facts. Peter Costello, John Howard and Kim Beazley are lost playing “Follow the leader”. We shouldn’t need ageing rock stars in designer sunglasses and teeny-boppers in too short dresses to reactivate our moral compasses.
Australians have shown privately, in response to the 2004 tsunami, that we believe human rights are accorded regardless of colour, creed or capability. Yet the high infant mortality and low literacy rates in East Timor are indicative of our government’s limited commitment to the global moral obligation, even in our own region. World Vision CEO Tim Costello recently said, “What is the moral significance of the stretch of water separating Australia from East Timor?”
If our politicians are only interested in trade, then maybe tax is the solution to poverty and global warming. Countries like the United Kingdom and Europe, which have driven the agenda on eradicating poverty and climate change, have begun to talk of taxing imports from countries that haven’t signed on to the Kyoto protocol.
Carbon trading is one thing, but what about a “Millennium Development” trading scheme? Those countries that are flagrantly flaunting the Millennium Development Goal provisions to spend their money on security provisions rather than aid should be penalised. And countries that negotiate to needlessly exploit developing countries should be taken to account. We shouldn’t need to deprive the developing world of food in order to expand our wealth.
The moral arguments don’t work. The logical arguments fall on deaf ears. Our politicians seem only too eager to benefit from globalisation, but bereft of any vision when it comes to our responsibilities. Mr Howard’s joint taskforce talk-fest on carbon trading is just going to re-affirm the 2003 position, that carbon trading will cost industry too much.
Perhaps Australians should be writing to the EU to encourage them to impose penalties for non-compliance to Kyoto, and to Downing St to encourage financial penalties for refusing to fulfill our commitments on global poverty. If money is the only thing that Mr Howard can hear, then let's get the money talking.