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Global human security.

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Friday 8 October 2004

Andrew Hewett, Executive Director, Oxfam Community Aid Abroad


Global Human Security  


National security is a central issue in the election campaign. 


The horrific attacks and bombings since September 11th 2001 have pushed the threat of international terrorism to centre stage. 


However, for most people in the world these attacks have changed nothing.  


They’re people like the Ethiopian villagers who I met in May who up until recently had to walk more than six hours each day to get clean water. Or the slum dwellers in Mozambique who are trying to cope with the ravages of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Or the women peace workers in the highlands of Papua New Guinea who attempt to stop clan fighting by standing between the rival groups. 


There are six billion people in the world; more than one billion survive on just one US dollar a day. Two billion people don’t have access to clean water. 150 million children will never see inside a classroom.  


Hunger, the HIV/AIDS epidemic and environmental degradation continue to undermine the security of communities and entire nations.  


Whoever gets elected this Saturday will be faced with a major challenge - how can we balance the needs of those countries beset by the threat of terrorism with the needs of the world’s poor? 


Oxfam Community Aid Abroad has learnt much over the decades about the important relationship between poverty and security. Poverty leads to insecurity; insecurity undermines development efforts. Chronic mass poverty, gross and obscene disparities of wealth, income and power and the spread of small arms are some of the driving forces behind much insecurity. 


This does not mean that poverty necessarily leads to terrorism, or that terrorism will automatically be eliminated by addressing poverty. However, while large parts of the world continue to be enclaves of extreme hardship and poverty, despair will take root. While the gaps between rich and poor continue to widen, it will be increasingly difficult to neutralise support for political extremism and to generate the political will on the part of local authorities to act against it. 


Horrifying as they are, terrorist attacks are not the only threats to global security. They’re not even the main threat. Australia needs to have a “whole of government” approach to global human security.  


This is a matter of pragmatism, not idealism. 


Most rich countries are bordered by other rich countries. But most of Australia’s neighbours are developing countries; many suffering from great instability and chronic mass poverty. Armed conflict has afflicted much of the region. 


Australia is a rich country with a stable parliamentary democracy. Our society is in many ways a model of multiculturalism. As a middle level power we have extensive experience as an honest broker, developing constructive approaches to global and regional problems. We have much to offer the international community. 


How can Australia help build global human security? 


We can focus on strengthening global institutions and cooperation through the United Nations, promoting human rights consistently and working for a fairer trading system. Long-term development in our region should be a priority. We need to rebuild our foreign aid program and ensure that it is unambiguously focussed on reducing poverty.  


However in 2004, Australia’s aid spending is at near record low levels. Just 26 cents of every one hundred dollars of national income is directed to responding to the needs of the world’s poor. Our country’s aid budget has been cut while other rich countries like the UK, US and Ireland have been increasing their spending. Australia now has the dubious honour of being ranked 14th out of 22 donor countries. 


And while the aid dollars have been squeezed, the anti-poverty focus of the program has been diluted as a narrow conception of national security has increasingly taken hold. 


This is what is needed now.  


Over the next five years the aid budget should be doubled. The Millennium Development Goals should be adopted as the framework for the program. This would help ensure that Australia contributes to global human security. 


A commitment to long-term development in the Asia-Pacific region would mean giving the people of East Timor - the poorest country in East Asia - a fair share of the oil and gas resources in the Timor Sea. In the Solomon Islands it would build upon last year’s welcome intervention to restore law and order, with sustained and well-funded efforts to tackle the underlying causes of the tensions. 


National security should be a central concern of any national government. But in this globalised world, national security will only be delivered through global human security.  


Guests on this program:

Andrew Hewett  

Executive Director 

Oxfam Community Abroad