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  • Writer's pictureJames Cox

Promoting peace in Australia's foreign policy

Over the last couple of months I have had the pleasure of working with an expert and very committed group of people from the University of New South Wales, University of Technology and the University of Sydney. Together we have written a submission to the Australian government's Foreign Policy White Paper Consultation, in which we called for Australian foreign policy to be guided by a critical peacebuilding approach.

The drafting group had a remarkable convergence of thinking on what we thought the Government needs to address in the White Paper. We shared a concern that Australian foreign policy does not pay close enough attention to the risks to peace and human security in the Indo-Pacific region. We argued that Australia's national security driven approach needs to be balanced by a critical peacebuilding approach, that takes into consideration the factors that challenge peace in the region, often at very localised levels, and aims to build a climate of positive peace. Climate change, gender inequality, youth unemployment, state fragility and other factors all contributed to our analysis.

We also considered Australia's aid program itself, and suggested that it needs to be more sensitive to the factors that increase the risk of violent conflict, and not only in places with a recent violent history. The cost of taking preventive measures is far less than that of cleaning up after violent conflict, to say nothing of the years of development activity that can be undone by violence.

I will not discuss the report's various recommendations in detail here - they are readily accessed in the introduction to the submission. But in addition to the main argument outlined above, a few themes stand out. Three require attention now: the renegotiation of Australia's border with Timor Leste, the safe and successful conduct of Bougainville's referendum for independence, and for Australia's contribution to a just resolution of the abuses being perpetrated against the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. Australia's recent last minute support for a UN mission to investigate the abuses is an encouraging step.

We also identified the need for changes in the understanding of peace and conflict in Australia. This is needed not only at the level of policy debate, but also in our education system - at schools and in the tertiary sector. As a nation we need to invest in understanding peace ourselves and address the structural violence built into our own society.

So this gives Peacifica an agenda for future peace advocacy:

  • Continuing to encourage DFAT to pursue a critical peacebuilding approach to its foreign policy

  • Working on guidance for a more conflict sensitive aid program

  • Advocating on specific issues like the Timor border, Rohingya justice and the Bougainville referendum

  • Promoting peacebuilding discourse in Australia

Preparing the White Paper submission has shown that the issues that concern Peacifica concern many others. It's great to know that I have allies who are close to hand, and I look forward to us working on this agenda together.

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