Julie Bishop arrived in New York with a spring in her step, displaying the renewed confidence of a refreshed government.
Her speech to the UN General Assembly was considered, yet ambitious. The Foreign Minister began by reminding the world that Australia has been there since the very beginning of the UN and crafted a central element of the UN Charter — article 56, known as “the Australian Pledge” — in which member nations pledged to achieve higher standards of living and solutions to international economic and social problems as well as universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms.
This was a great Australian achievement, one that demonstrated what Australians should always look for in their foreign policy — the pursuit of our national interest in the context of the global common good, reflecting not just our immediate policy goals but also our values.
The Foreign Minister not only embraced the UN’s unanimous endorsement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, she called it “a manifestation of the Australian Pledge”. The first five Sustainable Development Goals are to end extreme poverty everywhere, to end hunger, to ensure quality education, to ensure healthy lives, to achieve gender equality — and to do it in a generation. She said that while Australia did not underestimate the international challenges, “we remain confident that working together we can realise the enduring promise of the Charter” and that 70 years after its creation, the UN General Assembly was indeed the place that Doc Evatt, who led the Australian delegation to the San Francisco conference in 1945, imagined it could be — “the forum in which the conscience of the peoples of the world has its most potent expression”.
In many respects, this was a breathtaking repositioning of the Coalition government’s previous ambivalence, or hostility, towards the UN and raised the possibility that under its new leadership the government will tread the international stage with greater deftness as well as more exuberant ambition, a good and principled international citizen. More broadly,
Australia’s rhetoric on progress through sustainable development is undermined by cuts of more than $11 billion to Australia’s aid program over the past two budgets.
Signing up to the Global Goals for Sustainable Development and giving them a ringing endorsement is both just and sensible. But the commitment will ring hollow unless Australian aid can be restored, as a critical tool for driving progress. As the Turnbull government must already know, ambitions are one thing but actions speak louder than words. Tim Costello is chief executive of World Vision Australia.
This post is an excerpt of an opinion piece first published in The Australian, 2 Oct 2015: “Actions speak louder than words in foreign aid”
Watch the Foreign Minister’s speech at the United Nations General Assembly below:
Find out more about the UN’s new Global Goals for Sustainable Development.