Political silence on the Global Goals in Australia
When Foreign Minister Julie Bishop signed Australia’s commitment to the United Nations’ Global Goals for Sustainable Development in New York in September last year, she accepted an exciting and challenging possible blueprint for the type of Australia we might hand over to the next generation in 2030.
Unfortunately, the lack of reference or discussion on the 17 Global Goals by Australia’s political leaders from all parties leaves us falling behind many of the other 192 nations which signed up to the goals. Even more concerning is the belief, held by these same political leaders, that our commitment to the Global Goals is only a commitment to provide overseas development assistance (Australian aid) to less developed countries to achieve the goals.
The reality is that the Global Goals and the 169 targets set against them provide an excellent planning blueprint for Australia as we confront the transition of our economy after the mining boom. They also provide an opportunity for our government to frame national, state and local policies in terms of the goals. For example, on the night of the budget announcement last month, there was not one mention of the Global Goals or any goal in particular for that matter, even though there were many areas to which the Turnbull government committed funding which aligned with our commitment to the Global Goals.
Goals 1 and 2, No Poverty and Zero Hunger respectively are possibly the cause of many Australians switching off from the goals due to our perceived lack of both poverty and hunger in this country. However, it can be strongly argued that we do have relative poverty and hunger among those in lower socio-economic groups. Many schools in Australia provide breakfast for students who do not get breakfast at home and sadly our homelessness is getting worse, not better. Both of these represent actions that can be taken to address these two goals. And, of course we must not overlook our obligation to poorer countries, especially those in our immediate Indo-Pacific area where poverty and hunger is real.
Furthermore, the targets for Goal 2 are not just about hunger. They are also about malnutrition and sustainable agricultural practices. With over 300,000 Australians employed in the agricultural industry, it is safe to say Goal 2 is a very important goal for the nation.
Goal 3 (Good Health and Well-being) should be used to address the twin scourges of rising obesity and the increasing incidence of Type 2 diabetes as well as the rising challenges presented by drug and alcohol abuse. Naturally the access to affordable healthcare needs to also be addressed alongside the high rate of youth suicides across the nation.
Goal 4 is Quality Education. In Australia, we should concentrate on the “quality” aspect in light of our declining levels of literacy and numeracy measured on a international scale despite increasing expenditure by both federal and state governments over many years. It is also important to teach children about the Global Goals as we will be relying on our next generation of leaders to sustain the development we have achieved into their future as well. Again, we cannot ignore our international obligations in this area. Our contributions to the Colombo Plan are a good example of action is this area.
Gender Equality is addressed in Goal 5, and nobody can argue that we still have a long way to go to achieve full gender equality in this country. Thankfully, it is a topic that is out there and being discussed and debated in many forums. However, it would be even better if it were discussed in terms of the targets set by the Global Goals. A standout of the targets for Goal 5 is the eradication of domestic violence. Gender equality will not only bring about social progress but economic progress also. Recently, a respected business leader claimed that achieving gender equality in Australia would lift GDP by 10%.
While a majority of the country has access to clean water today, this may not be a reality in the future. Goals 6 sets targets for Clean Water and Sanitation by 2030. Given a drying climate, how do we plan for clean water for all in 2030 and the years beyond? We need to start taking action now to ensure we plan for the future.
Goal 7 (Affordable and Clean Energy) is becoming more popular in Australia. In a country fortunate enough to have (on most days) beautiful weather, it seems a waste to not be using the sun’s heat to power our homes. The targets set out in the Global Goals require us to have doubled the share of clean energy in our energy mix by 2030. However, many countries have committed to 100% renewables by 2030 or sooner. The ACT has also committed to 100% renewables by 2020. Other states and territories should be looking towards the ACT government as an outstanding example. To ensure we achieve 100% renewables, we need a strong and credible plan and appropriate budget allocations.
Decent Work and Economic Growth are called for in Goal 8 and are at the core of much of the debate between the two major political parties during the current election campaign. Fortunately there is consensus that economic growth is vital, not only for decent jobs, but also for the achievement of each of the 17 Global Goals. The Australian people will decide who has the best plan for Goal 8 on July 2.
Our current Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, as the self-proclaimed innovation Prime Minister, should be out loudly promoting Goal 9 that sets targets for Industry, Innovation and Innovation. At the heart of this goal is the transition of Australia from a mining-based economy to a broad-based economy. Industry too is supporting the achievement of this goal alongside the other goals. Before his retirement as CEO of Rio Tinto, Sam Walsh stated in an interview he believed sustainable development was the greatest challenge his company faced. Unilever CEO Paul Polman is one of 17 international advocates for the Global Goals appointed by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to promote and support the achievement of the goals.
Reduced Inequalities is addressed in Goal 10. Targets call for achieving income growth of the bottom 40 per cent of the population at a higher rate than the national average. Targets also call for the empowerment and promotion of the social, economic and political inclusion of all,
irrespective of age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion, economic or any other status. This includes ensuring not only are we welcoming to migrants but that we have inclusive and responsible migration policies.
State and local governments across Australia are called to action through Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities. Again both major parties are addressing the challenges presented as are the Greens; however, there is little consensus on how the targets set be best addressed.
The envisaged development of Northern Australia goes some way to achieving the second part of Goal 12 that focuses on Responsible Consumption and Production. The plan to produce more food is laudable and necessary, but we also need to reduce wasteful consumption. 20% of the food purchased by Australian households is discarded. That equates to 4 million tonnes of food each year across the entire country - or $8 billion wasted each year on edible food.
Goal 13 (Climate Action) is also a growing concern in Australia but one which still meets resistance from some people who do not believe climate change has been impacted by human behaviour. That being said, Australia has signed up to the Paris Climate Agreement and has made commitments to working towards finding a solution to climate change. Once more, the 2016 election outcome will be influenced by these differing stances.
A recent article in The Australian newspaper highlighted the concerns raised by Goal 14: Life Below Water. According to the report, by 2020, the amount of waste in the world’s oceans will equate to the weight of all the fish in the same oceans. Goal 14 also calls for the careful and proper management of our fish stocks, some of which are currently being over-fished in Australia.
The targets for Goal 15 (Life on Land) require us to preserve our natural habitat wherever possible and do our very best to conserve habitats and protect endangered flora and fauna species. Our ecosystem is incredibly fragile, and any further destruction to it could be incredibly costly.
In a world which is constantly at war, the achievement of Goal 16 (Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions) is probably the most difficult. However, nurturing and protecting democracy and continuing to embrace multiculturalism are good starting points. Ensuring an accountable and transparent legal system and safeguarding this legal system against corruption also will go a long way to ensuring the achievement of Goal 16 is realised by 2030.
The exciting possibilities promised in the achievement of the Global Goals are brought together under Goal 17: Partnerships for the Goals. The achievement of the goals is not just the responsibility of the federal government. It requires the commitment of all levels of government - federal, state and local - working together with business of all sizes and types to a well- articulated plan. It requires the involvement of community groups and individuals and every non-government organisation. Most importantly though, it requires the leadership of the Australian federal government who committed us to the goals. For this to happen we need open and broad discussion on all 17 Global Goals and their inclusion in future budgets at all three levels of government. We have committed our nation to a brighter, more prosperous and more sustainable future, and we should be loudly and proudly telling everyone.