In May, Alice was invited by His Excellency the Honourable Governor-General of Australia, David Hurley AC DSC, to the Global Foundation Canberra Roundtable at Government House, Yarralumla. Forty guests drawn from diverse backgrounds across business, religious, tertiary, community and thought leadership convened to discuss Australia’s identity and longer-term strategy in a global context.
The overarching view at the table was that Australia does not have a coherent, long-term national strategy; one that is understood and embraced by Australians and that we cannot begin to know our national strategy or identity as Australians until we are prepared to face and acknowledge the truth of our history with First Nations peoples.
Alice was honoured to be at the table, speaking as both a young woman and environmental and social justice advocate, taking with her the voices of the women she works alongside in Australia and Timor-Leste.
This is her address.
Figuring out our place in the world and how our individual interests and values work together is a concept that is ever present in all of our lives, and Australia as a country is no different. Apart from being a social entrepreneur in the Asia Pacific region, I am also one of 200 Asia Pacific Obama Leaders, under the Obama Foundation. Upon thinking about Australia and who we are as a nation, I turned to some of my fellow Obama Leaders and asked about how they view Australia, from a regional perspective. Because I believe that to be truly introspective and understand where you belong and what your interests are, you need to not only ask yourself the question, but also ask the question of how others view you. So from Timor-Leste, and Hawai’i, Vietnam, Guam, Indonesia, Malaysia and beyond, we discussed the Asia Pacific region, and specifically who Australia is, how we are viewed and what opportunities are up for grabs in the wake of a pandemic that can be seen as a reset, and a real opportunity to lead with equality, inclusion and justice for all.
The overwhelming response was around climate and that Australia’s current stance and level of inaction on climate change is both disappointing and concerning, a response no different to the 2019 Lowy Institute poll where two-thirds of Australians saw climate change as a bigger threat to Australia's interests than terrorism.
We have a moment in time to demonstrate climate leadership whilst advancing national interests, to adopt renewable energy technologies and implement “green growth” strategies. Addressing climate change is not only a moral imperative, but should be seen as a COVID-19 economic recovery strategy to help boost the economy whilst being a key contributor to achieving the 2030 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and to embolden us to be more ambitious in our national carbon emissions reduction targets.
Our coping capacity is already being tested, as we face increasingly frequent and severe extreme weather events, yet the pandemic has demonstrated that as a nation, we are in fact able to take the fast and uncomfortable action that is required to protect the greater good – with urgent and swift climate action no different.
It is not only the science that is clear, with senior defence experts advising that climate change poses a 'direct threat' to Australia's national security interests. We must be very clear about understanding the implication of what mass climate migration will look like for Australia, both in terms of those seeking refuge here or Australians seeking it elsewhere.
Our national values of compassion, equality for all, respect for freedom and dignity sit in stark contrast to our lack of constitutional recognition, ongoing socioeconomic disparities and treatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples - which doesn’t go unnoticed in the region and is viewed as a major social justice issue, along with our treatment of refugees and migrants. 2020 highlighted systemic racism and injustice worldwide through the Black Lives Matter movement, and whilst focused on the United States, our national shame hangs heavy in Australia with Indigenous incarceration and consequential deaths in custody, with 7 deaths in custody since March this year.
Our interests need to benefit both people and planet, and we must be prepared to look at future generations when we consider the decisions that we take today. Our national interests should see us valuing our role in being a regional leader, reckoning with our past, working to support our Asia Pacific neighbours to recover from the pandemic as quickly as us and moving to position our recovery to be green led. And when it comes to climate, the moral issue of our time, Australia not only has an opportunity, but an obligation to set the narrative and move the bar forward – and we must, because future generations depend on it.
You can read the full meeting report here.