• Right now, Australia is defining a new strategy for foreign policy.
  • This is our chance to put children first and invest in the world's most vulnerable.
  • UNICEF Australia is calling on the government to rebuild Australian aid, promote international law and support the Sustainable Development Goals.

Later this year, the Australian Government will release its new Foreign Policy White Paper, or strategy, which will guide how Australia engages with the world over the next ten years.

Our foreign policy is important because how we participate internationally, and especially in the Indo-Pacific region, has an impact on Australia’s prosperity and security. Yet while there are impacts at home, those most effected by Australia’s foreign policy decisions are the world’s children, particularly those in our region.
 
Australia’s new foreign policy is an opportunity for the Australian Government to restate a clear commitment to the world’s poorest children and narrow existing global social and economic inequality. Maintaining effective international cooperation and addressing these challenges are critical to furthering stability and prosperity in the region and across the world.
 
UNICEF Australia has been involved in roundtable discussions with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and has also made a submission to the White Paper process which focuses on the child and human rights aspects of Australia’s foreign policy.
Life-saving Australian aid was delivered to Fiji after Cyclone Winston.

Four key principles underpin UNICEF Australia’s recommended foreign policy approach:
 
  • Putting children first in foreign policy decision making and identifying them as a stand-alone investment priority within Australia’s aid program;
  • Orienting our foreign policy towards realising the Sustainable Development Goals on schedule;
  • Increasing the proportion of Australia’s child-related Official Development Assistance;
  • Prioritising equitable development growth. In an era of shifting alliances, growing protectionism and a potential retreat from a rules-based international order, it may be tempting to focus Australia’s foreign policy predominantly around security issues. However UNICEF Australia encourages the Australian Government to maintain robust international cooperation and continue contributing to relative predictability and stability through investments in children.
Strengthening the norms and standards that protect children, and subsequently contribute to ending violence against children, extreme poverty, preventable child deaths, gender inequality and discrimination all greatly benefit children, but they are also important for creating sustained and equitable long-run growth and for maintaining peace.
 
There are five key areas that are crucial for children and must be included in Australia’s new foreign policy:
 

1. Prioritising children in our aid program 


Children must be prioritised in our aid program, by increasing the proportion of Official Development Assistance (ODA) allocated to them - by identifying children as a core priority area and also through funding that addresses child rights across all aspects of our aid program.
 
Children’s participation should be a driver and determinant of Australia’s aid effectiveness. The voices of children and young people have been invaluable in developing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and will be equally important to ground-up monitoring and accountability. Mechanisms should be developed in Australia and the region for youth participation in measuring progress on the SDGs.
 
Australia’s foreign policy strategy should also identify the significant data gaps for children and adolescents and address these so we have a more accurate picture of how best to support children in the region, particularly the most vulnerable and excluded.

2. Escalating efforts to achieve the global Sustainable Development Goals 


Achieving the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030 must remain a core framework to anchor and orientate Australia’s foreign policy and aid investments. Strong leadership is needed from governments, business and civil society to achieve the SGDs by 2030.
 
It’s essential that the Australian Government increase the proportion of child-focused Official Development Assistance (ODA) in the Asia-Pacific region and ensure investments are better targeted to support child rights.
 
The Government must also invest in programming for, and monitoring of, equitable development outcomes so all children have the opportunity of a fair start in life.
 

3. Promoting the legal frameworks that protect the most vulnerable children 


The Australian Government must maintain its position as a good international citizen through promotion of the legal frameworks that protect the most vulnerable children.
 
This includes:
  • promoting comprehensive human rights protections;
  • building capacity and promoting compliance with International Human Rights Law;
  • conducting proactive international diplomacy and advocacy to prevent the erosion of International Humanitarian Law;
  • endorsing the International Safe Schools Declaration and Guidelines to ensure schools do not become weapons of war and education continues in conflict zones;
  • committing to a National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights, which strengthens accountability in Australia and overseas.

4. Committing to progressively rebuild our aid budget 


Australia’s aid budget is at an all-time low of just 0.21% of Gross National Income (GNI) and is one of the lowest contributions of all OECD countries – 34 free market economy countries that have committed to promoting policies which will improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world.
 
The Australian Government must commit to developing a schedule to restore the aid budget to its pre-existing level of $5.5 billion (or 0.3% of GNI) within the current Parliamentary term and to 0.7% of GNI by 2030.  
 

5. Preventing forced displacement in the region 


Greater focus is needed to address the drivers of forced migration - through targeted Official Development Assistance (ODA) investment and integrated policy responses to the multiple drivers of forced migration, such as extreme poverty, climate change and persecution.
 
The Department of Foreign Affairs should also convene regular dialogue with civil society groups, academics, senior government officials and key regional partners to discuss strengthened protection for forcibly displaced persons in the region. 
 
Australia’s strategic influence in the Indo-Pacific region, and our proximity, make us well positioned to strengthen the capabilities of regional partners to act in support of our shared interests. Australia’s foreign policy must not focus simply on security issues in the region. Continued investment in children and young people are necessary to improve their lives, build human capital and strengthen regional economies.
 
Intergenerational and entrenched cycles of disadvantage endanger the futures of millions of children and their societies. An investment in children is an investment in our common future and global prosperity.

Stay up to date


News, commentary and children's stories delivered to your inbox about once a month.

Comments