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Our Future

Is Australia a Leader or a Follower?

By Phong Trinh
Oaktree Alumni

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The World’s Step Backwards

Over the first month of the U.S administration, President Trump signed a total of 12 executive orders, 12 memorandums and 2 proclamations, most of which were under an unfolding foreign policy doctrine of what he declared in his inauguration speech as, ‘America First’.

President Trump's early executive orders included a controversial immigration ban and restrictions on overseas abortions.

The inward-looking direction of his leadership (through examples such as the southern border wall and the immigration ban) challenge the dynamics of a world order based on pluralism and integration, and instead promote one driven by unilateralism and self-interest.

Similarly on the other side of the world, the far-right leaning chorus of Reclaim Australia and the election of four One Nation Party officials in the upper house have prompted the discourse surrounding the future of nationalism, xenophobia and divisive politics. As some parts of the world take some big steps backwards, Australia seems to follow.

The Foreign Policy White Paper

Our leaders in Canberra are currently developing a new Foreign Policy White Paper. This strategic framework will identify how Australia intends to interact with our region and the world on issues ranging from immigration, humanitarianism, trade, defence and energy security. The document is expected to further uncover how the federal administration intends to engage with the world’s most challenging issues including asylum seekers, climate change and terrorism.

 Australia must show leadership in the upcoming Foreign Policy White Paper to address major regional and global issues. 

Perhaps most of all, the White Paper will determine whether the multicultural traditions set forth back in the 2003 White Paper still matter within Australia’s present and foreseeable future.

The preamble of the White Paper in 2003 proudly identified Australia’s tradition as ‘an outward-looking country largely of migrant origin, and one of the few in the world to embrace a national policy of multiculturalism.' This sentiment has been upheld by strong commitments to racial equality, religious freedom, cultural and linguistic diversity as well as an inclusive multilateral agenda shared by more than 6.7 million Australians who directly come from a migrant background. Most Australians still hold these values strongly despite a vocal minority saying otherwise. 

Standing up for a Fairer Australia

The immeasurable and intangible progress that has been made since the dissolution of the ‘White Australia’ policy in 1973 cannot be understated. Today, Australia shares a fundamental role as a member of different partnerships, coalitions, summits, treaties and conventions as part of decades within the international community.

It is important, particularly now, that we advocate for an Australia that champions inclusivity, equal opportunity, human rights and global values. Strong and fair action on climate change, refugee rights and addressing inequality is of utmost importance. We have the opportunity to be leaders in our region on these issues, and the chance to maintain our perception as a ‘Good International Citizen.’

However, if we let the politics of fear, hatred and bigotry lead our policies, we will compromise our standing on the world stage and risk becoming a follower rather than a leader.

Want to keep reading? Check out Climate Change: The World's Hottest Topic