Poverty & national security

Andrew Hewitt

The forthcoming election campaign will be an unusual one. It'll be one of the few times in Australia's history that foreign policy debates will be central to a campaign. This will present a challenge for the Labor Party and indeed for all who are concerned with Australia's place in the world and our country's role in helping to create and sustain a fairer and more peaceful world.

Current foreign policy debate in Australia is preoccupied with a narrow and one dimensional approach to national security and how we define our national interest. It's a debate which is based a narrow vision of the role that Australia can play, the sorts of relationships we could build and the sorts of opportunities we could create in our region and beyond. Let there be no doubt that Australian governments have a right and indeed a responsibility to take decisions in Australia's national interest.

The Australian government elected in 2004 will however sell Australia short if it continues to create a false dichotomy between Australia's national interest and the quest for global social justice. There can be no security for Australians without real action to eliminate poverty and promote social justice within our region and beyond. Achieving human security - the protection of lives and achievement of sustainable livelihoods for people - is the key to global security and therefore now more than ever central to Australia's national interest.

The world is facing major challenges. Coming to grips with a changed security environment is but one - and not necessarily the most important - of these challenges.The continuing scandal of chronic mass poverty and the obscene and growing disparities of wealth and income between rich and poor receives less public attention.The parlous state of global governance undermines attempts to respond to the challenges facing us all. And of course there is the reality of a unipolar world with one superpower seemingly uncommitted to a serious engagement with multilateral processes.

A regenerated foreign policy

Australia's foreign policy needs regenerating. It needs to more adequately respond to these real challenges facing our country, our region and our world.It needs to fully reflect our potential to contribute to a better world. We're a middle level power with an advanced economy, indeed as Mr. Downer recent boasted, the world's 12th biggest economy, and a stable parliamentary democracy. We're a strong multi-cultural society, with until recently a proud record of active involvement in the United Nations and other elements of global governance. We're part of the Asia Pacific region, a region wher