by Joseph Camilleri
Pax Christi Australia (NSW)
(Read Part 1 by clicking here.)
If ‘just peace’ requires peacemaking and peacebuilding to be sensitive to the cries of the poor and the cries of the Earth, how relevant is it to Australia’s present circumstances? If what is proposed is a holistic approach to the problem of violence that encompasses social and ecological violence as well as physical violence, is Australia capable of adopting the approach as a guide to its domestic and external policies? To judge by the parlous state of Australian politics and public discourse, at least as filtered by mainstream media, the omens are less than propitious. And yet, the possibilities are immense and tantalising, and the ground potentially more fertile than is often supposed.
The many failings of current policy design and implementation in Australia clearly point to the need for new directions of the kind suggested by just peace thinking. A case in point is the failure of successive governments to devise an energy policy that delivers low emissions electricity and affordable energy for those on low incomes. As of now Australia is poorly placed to meet the emissions target set by the Paris agreement of 26-28% reduction in national emissions compared to 2005 levels – a rather modest target when compared to that of other advanced economies.
The energy policy vacuum has proved especially damaging for our relations with Pacific neighbours. Rather than empathise with the concerns of Pacific Island nations for whom climate change is an existential threat, the Australian government has turned a deaf ear to their pleas, and recently added insult to injury by accusing Pacific leaders of a cash grab.
Unsurprisingly, Australian governments have shown little interest in World Bank suggestions that Australia offer open access migration to low-lying Pacific nations. Tuvalu and Kiribati in particular are acutely vulnerable to rising sea levels that have already started flooding land and homes.
The exodus of environmental refugees, not just from the Pacific but from the coastal regions of South Asia and parts of Southeast Asia, is expected to become a major security threat over the next ten to twenty years. With climate change and other environmental pressures already reducing the availability of water, food and arable land in host countries, transboundary migration is expected to rise sharply, exacerbating tensions and conflict within and between countries.
What might Australia’s response be? If Australia’s refugee policies are any indication, the tendency will be to view these trends through the lens of military security. From the ‘children overboard’ fiasco in 2001 to the military-led ‘operation sovereign borders’ established in 2013 and the wilful neglect of the health of detainees at Manus and Nauru we see the same counterproductive response at work, which is to make the victims of humanitarian crises the primary targets of military force…