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Peace And Prosperity Here Depends On Peace And Prosperity There

This is not 'globalist' ideology as much common sense.

22/03/2017 11:21 AM AEDT | Updated 22/03/2017 11:21 AM AEDT
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I'm encouraged by evidence that the emerging generation of millennials reject blinkered nationalism and identify strongly as part of the wider world.

Two Saturdays ago in Western Australia, voters turned their backs on One Nation and sent packing an incumbent seen as too eager to do backroom deals with Pauline Hanson. A few days later in the Netherlands, voters delivered an unexpectedly poor showing for Geert Wilders' anti-immigration party (PVV), whose one-page platform promised to exit the EU, close borders to Muslim immigrants, shut down mosques and ban the Koran. Meanwhile, the explicitly anti-populist GreenLeft Party surged from just four seats in the Dutch Parliament to 14.

Two distant and unrelated elections may not prove once and for all that populist politics, with all its inevitable nationalist and xenophobic sentiments, is on the wane. But, at the very least, it shatters the illusion we are caught up in an irreversible tide of angry nationalism.

Whenever and wherever populism rears its head, the world's most impoverished and vulnerable to famine and disease are always among the first to face the consequences.

For developing countries in the region, and for nearly 1 billion people throughout the world still living in extreme poverty, a pivot away from insular politics cannot come soon enough. Over the past five years, governments in Canberra from both sides have abandoned their obligations to the world's poorest, as successive budgets have seen foreign aid funding crash to its lower level ever in real terms. Whenever and wherever populism rears its head, the world's most impoverished and vulnerable to famine and disease are always among the first to face the consequences.

These cuts, sadly matched by too many other rich countries, have put at peril a decade and a half of unprecedented progress. The number of people living in extreme poverty halved between 2000 and 2015, as did rates of infant and maternal mortality across developing countries. Whether or not the next 15 years brings further advances or an avoidable unravelling depends on whether major political parties continue their race to the bottom or, instead, reverse course to reassert the country's moral leadership in the region and the world.

Gains like these were made possible by the Millennium Development Goals adopted by UN member states in 2000, and backed by a global 66 percent lift in foreign aid spending in real terms. Would such advances have been possible if the MDGs were proposed today? Look no further than the deep cuts to Australia's aid program over recent budgets, including a 7.4 percent reduction last year alone, to find your answer.

Rapid social, economic and technological change has undeniably left many communities in Australia and across the developed world feeling ignored, belittled, and betrayed by politicians who have done little to address declining job and income security. Wealth inequality has spiked, creating two-track economies that leave too many lagging behind. The causes are complex and multi-faceted, and few leaders anywhere have found adequate policy responses. Most haven't bothered trying.

And yet it would rank as one of history's gravest missed opportunities if we surrender the fight against global extreme poverty at a time when we know that concerted international efforts such as the MDGs and the subsequent Sustainable Development Goals put victory within reach -- not in some far away future, but within this generation.

Millennials understand, without being told, that their fate, and the fate of their country, is inextricably bound up with our region and the world.

Meanwhile, as the developed world looks inward, South Sudan today faces a crippling and rapidly deteriorating famine, while the UN projects that Yemen, Nigeria and Somalia will soon endure devastating food shortages of their own without an estimated USD$4.4 billion in aid. Reports of a new bird flu outbreak in China and concerns about a resurgence of the Zika virus coincide with President Donald Trump's plan to slash global public health funding. But here's the thing about fatal pathogens: walls don't stop them.

I'm encouraged by evidence that the emerging generation of millennials reject blinkered nationalism and identify strongly as part of the wider world. They understand, without being told, that their fate, and the fate of their country, is inextricably bound up with our region and the world.

This is not 'globalist' ideology as much common sense. They get that the jobs and prosperity of the future depend on collaboration, investment and trade across national borders; that today's aid recipients are tomorrow's market for our goods, services and ingenuity. Nearly half of Australian millennials identify more as global than national citizens; the same survey, conducted for the BBC World Service, showed startling numbers for millennials across the world, most starkly in the developing world.

This is our next generation of leaders, and it's heartening that they grasp so intuitively that peace and prosperity over here depends more than ever on peace and prosperity over there. We need every ounce of that optimism and energy.

Without the activism of millions and political will from those we entrust to govern, history shows the reversal of hard-won gains is not just possible, it is inevitable. But the stakes are too high for those of us who embrace an internationalist outlook to merely surrender. There are people of goodwill on all sides of politics, not to mention a generation of globally minded, politically engaged young people swinging into action.


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