By Georgina Pickers
NCWQ International Relations and Peace Adviser
International Relations & Peace and Human Rights coexist – one dependant on the other. Like the biblical Ten Commandments, the H.R. conventions should be at the foundation of our thoughts, words and actions.
The UN estimates the current global population at 7.2 billion. And like Australia’s, it is increasing annually. Population pressures coupled with climatic changes, dysfunctional or corrupt governments will be major factors affecting future peace and security. Although for the present the world is relative peaceful given the recent hopeful signs in relation to the Korean Peninsula and excepting on-going conflicts in places including Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan and the Sudan.
However the UNHCR currently reports an estimate of some 25.4 million refugees, 16 million stateless persons and some 65.4 million forcibly displaced worldwide. These figures are staggering especially when added to incalculable numbers of economic refugees now contributing to the mass movement of people. The potential tensions it will cause and reactionary measures that may be triggered is cause for concern.
The perceived ‘wealthy’ governments of the developed world will be greatly challenged in balancing the demands of accommodating greater numbers and maintaining social harmony.
Improving the economy and governance of countries helps stem the flow of economic refugees seeking a better life. Australia’s foreign aid and trade agreements will help.
While Australia’s defence budget has increased (34.5 billion dollars in 2017-2018 and $150 billion over the Forward Estimates – growing to .2% of GDP by 2020-21) and taking into account domestic economic pressures, Australia’s aid budget has been reduced in the last budget (it does not reach the UN recommended aid budget target of .07% ODI/GNI Overseas development Assistance to Gross National Income) it does substantially target important areas. One aspect targets provision for awarding scholarships, fellowships and short courses to individuals from over 60 countries; the objective being to promote prosperity, reduce poverty as well as enhancing stability. The 2018-19 aid budget of $4.2 billion allocates $1.2 billion to the Pacific region and $55 million to gender equality. Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop and her department must be acknowledged for favouring the empowerment of women and girls. Particularly important in countries where better women’s health, higher education, greater economic participation as well as participation in the decision making process are critical to development and beneficial to the entire community.
In the past security and defence pacts were foundations of bi-lateral and multi-lateral relationships. Today trade agreements are now more prominent to those relationships. Traditional allies such as the UK, USA, Canada and New Zealand will always remain Australia could be well served in looking at wider ties with established and developing nations within the Indo/Asia Pacific regions.
It would be helpful to future global international relations and peace that countries did not embark on subtle expansionist strategies such as have occurred in the South China Sea. It would be chaotic for the world should other countries asserted similar ambitions in expanding their territorial waters, then restricting passage of shipping and aircraft.
At no time in human history have we been so well informed yet at the same time so unquestioning, or accepting news as ‘fact’ or simply lacking healthy scepticism. The rise of the social media has influenced this trend. Whatever the case, it may well be widening the gap in extreme opinions leaving no middle ground for reasonable debate or compromise. It is a trend that is concerning.
In many countries this is causing the majority to embrace authoritarian leaders, threatening long-term instability, civil and human rights.
The UNHCR currently estimates that there are 22.5 million refugees, 16 million stateless persons with 65 million forcibly displaced worldwide. Added to that figure, the incalculable numbers of economic migrants who are either legally apply for visas or illegally (by any means) seek better economic prospects than what their country can offer. Consequently it is causing a greater mass movement of people than ever in the past
Human Rights conventions give legal if not an assumed sense of entitlement to refugees or asylum seekers to freely enter another country no matter what category or reason. This is severely testing the soverignty of many countries as well as their capacity to comfortably accommodate and integrate new arrivals. There may well be an increase of unaccompanied children in expectation that countries will be forced to accept them (and later their families) under the Rights of the Child Conventions. This factor will add further pressures.
International crime in the form of people smuggling operations is taking lucrative advantage of these mass movements. They offer desperate ‘clients’ false hopes and for a price unsafe or fatal passage to the perceived affluent Western world. The ILO (International Labour Organisation) estimate human trafficking profits at $150.2 million annually. More one third of the profit comes from forced labour exploitation and the remaining two thirds from sexual exploitation.
Domestic and Family violence reported incidents to Queensland Police were down 5% in the 2016-17, however the figure still represented 62,264 offences in that period, with breeches of Domestic Family Violence Protections Orders up 9%.
In an effort to curb the scourge of domestic family violence the Queensland government asks ‘by-standers’ to speak up, safely intervening or reporting suspected cases of D.V. The tendency to blame the victim is slowly dissipating. No longer should it be used as a common excuse for the assault of women (or men) behind closed doors or in public.
If a child is raised by a village the whole community therefore has the responsibility of keeping children safe. Foster parents are in greater demand than ever. While the Queensland Government’s Department of Child Safety, Youth and Women pleads for more foster carers they are under greater pressure than ever to ‘vet’ suitable people following the much publicised death of a foster child at the hands of the foster family. While greater scrutiny of foster carers will always be necessary, timely monitoring into the child’s on-going welfare must be incorporated. We cannot risk driving away potential foster carers that then necessitates the return of institutional care. The recently announced Federal Government national apology and National Redress Scheme those who experienced institutional child sexual abuse (reportedly up to 60,000 survivors) timely and bears witness to the failings of a system that flourished when governments abdicated responsibility for the care of vulnerable in the community to third parties.
After national dialogue about Elder Abuse particularly in relation to financial matters, where enduring powers of attorney has been assigned to a close family member the Queensland Government announced in September 2017 a new law to protect older persons from financial abuse. The reform concerns powers of attorney. These new laws, while welcomed, have yet to be enacted. When enforced they will be administered by the Queensland Public Guardian within the Queensland Civil Administrative Tribunal (QCAT) Authorities have commented that financial elder abuse may be a ‘red flag’ to other forms of abuse. Advocates have asked for a national reporting policy for when high care or nursing home fees are in arrears before the debt balloons to the point that a person is removed.
In 2017 the NCWQ made a submission to the Qld. Government regarding enduring powers of attorney in order to protect the financial assets of elderly dependents.
The phenomenal global campaign of the ‘MeToo’ movement initially via social media and later main stream media sent a strong message to men (and women) in positions of power or authority or those with some twisted sense of entitlement that sexual harassment is not acceptable in any community or occupation. The ‘message’ hopefully filtered down through all social strata’s. It is a wake-up call that behaviour that erodes the dignity of a person is not lawfully or socially acceptable in the 21st century.