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There's Never Been A Better Time To Be Australian, But We Need To Look Outwards

14/12/2015 5:39 AM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
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Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull recently reminded us that there has never been a more exciting time to be an Australian. And he's right, given that when we consider most international measures of prosperity and quality of life, Australia sits towards the top.

Globally, if we take a long-range look, things are getting better in most corners of the world. Life expectancy, education levels, maternal and child health are all improving. Meanwhile, rates of poverty, hunger, HIV infection, tuberculosis and malaria continue to fall following concerted efforts and investments by the international community.

Human development is making good strides. However, we know that big challenges remain.

For people living in nations facing conflict or emerging from it, quality of life has often not improved, and in some cases, has even gone backwards. Consider Afghanistan: more than a third of its population lives in extreme poverty while only 17 percent of women, and less than half of the country's men, are literate.

For people living in Pacific Island nations, economic development and job opportunities continue to be lacklustre. Sadly, these nations are also some of the most vulnerable in the world due to the effects of climate change and natural disasters, as brought home by Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu this year.

For the emerging economies of South and South East Asia, we still see large pockets of poverty and rising inequality. We're also increasingly recognising that the development challenges facing the world are global in nature. Issues such as climate change, people flows and the spread of disease don't adhere to national borders and have the power to have an impact on us all.

In recognition of the challenges at hand, world leaders, including Malcolm Turnbull, recently came together to agree on a new set of global Sustainable Development Goals, to focus efforts and increase investments over the next 15 years to eradicate poverty, reduce inequality and protect the environment.

What does this mean for us as Australians?

In accepting that there's never been a more exciting time to be an Australian, we must also accept the responsibility of being a globally engaged and supportive nation. A nation that proactively works with the international community to reduce poverty and build shared prosperity.

Unfortunately, in recent years, Australia has turned inward. A prominent example of this is evident in the heavy cuts made by the Abbott Government to Australia's aid program.

These cuts turned Australia inward by diminishing the role we can, and have, played in supporting life-changing opportunities for communities in Afghanistan, South East Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. It shirked our role in responding to global challenges such as climate change, violence and the spread of disease. It led to the scrapping of vital programs aimed at improving health, governance and reducing disaster risk with long-standing and important partner countries.

The major issue with an inward Australia is that it also damages our own interests. Cuts to Australia's aid program have damaged our diplomatic relationships and hampered our role in building a stable and prosperous region. Ultimately, this damages Australia in the longer term as our security interests, trade and investment opportunities are closely tied to the progress of countries in our region and our international partnerships.

In recent months, the Turnbull Government has shifted Australia to be more outward looking. There's been a welcomed new narrative of opportunity and innovation. The Government has appointed a new Minister for International Development and the Pacific, announced a bid for a seat on the Human Rights Council, and is taking on the chairing role of the Green Climate Fund.

On the eve of the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Update, we call on the Turnbull Government to bolster a more outward focused Australia through a commitment to rebuilding Australia's aid program.

A further cut of $224 million is scheduled for Australia's aid program next year. This would take our aid program to its lowest level ever.

A more outwardly focused Australia needs to work on rebuilding relations and utility in the Australia aid program to ensure vital programs to reduce poverty; to share knowledge on health and education systems and farming techniques; and to tackle climate change by supporting community resilience and sustainable development.

If, as Prime Minister Turnbull believes, there's never been a more exciting time to be an Australian, we must embrace the responsibility to play our part in reducing global poverty and building prosperity. Not just as a good global player but also as one that realises what it takes to keep Australia strong.

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