Presentation of CARE International Humanitarian Award
17 November 2001
I am honoured to have been presented the CARE International Humanitarian Award. I appreciate in particular the remarks made by the President. It has been an honour to work with CARE over nearly fifteen years, with CARE Australia and CARE International. At the present time, CARE is moving towards a new future. I am confident that you will find forms and structures that will meet the aspirations of all members.
When CARE began a little over fifty years ago, its members perhaps had the hope that they would work themselves out of a job as developing countries became more successful and more prosperous. Unfortunately, as that world has evolved, this has only happened in the rarest of instances. The demands for what we can do in development or in emergency relief are as great or greater than at any time in our history. Even now, as we hold this CARE International Board Meeting, the numbers of refugees grow as one more major regional conflict takes hold.
With the end of the Cold War, regional and ethnic rivalries broke out, whether in Africa, in South Asia or in Europe itself. This has placed new demands on governments; it has placed new demands on humanitarian organisations.
In recent times, CARE has accepted that it should not merely be a passive worker in these circumstances. It has accepted the need for advocacy, to advance humanitarian causes and humanitarian outcomes. There may be some difference of opinion within CARE concerning the extent to which we should take the role of advocacy. I would like to suggest that the need for advocacy is becoming more and more important.
While the need for CARE and humanitarian services is greater than ever before, many governments have reduced support. Attitudes have changed remarkably, and not always for the better, in the last fifty years.
While some countries in Europe have set a remarkable example, including members of CARE itself, other countries have diminished their effort and reduced the percentage of GDP devoted to official development assistance. For many Western countries, including my own, as we have become wealthier our contribution to foreign aid has diminished dramatically.
In the aftermath of the Second World War, leaders in most countries had experienced that war and the Depression that preceded it and some had been of an unfortunate age also to be involved in the First World War. The incentive to build a better world was powerful. There was a determination that the horrors of that War must not be allowed to happen again.
Led by the United States, great liberating forces swept the world and scores of new countries were born, freed of colonial restraints amidst a period of optimism and extraordinary hope for the future. Many Western countries were generous, led and inspired by the United States, with its Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe and Japan . Western governments committed themselves to a major contribution to improve life in the developing world.
While there are many examples of successful states, especially through East and South-East Asia, and also in South America, there are, unfortunately, too many examples of new states that failed. There are many reasons for that. While there are too many examples of bad governance, in many cases international support systems also failed.
When the West faced its own economic difficulties in the later sixties and seventies, many nations became tired of the effort to improve life in the Third World . The constituency for the immediate post-war generosity dried up.
For example, Australia's most generous year in support of the Third World was the last year of the Menzies government in 1966. In comparative terms, Australia then provided over .6% of GDP. It is now .25%. This reduction has been common, especially in the English speaking world.
These changes have been accompanied by new market-driven philosophies where the role of government in determining the fate of nations has been much diminished.
Despite claims to the contrary, globalisation has left many people in poor countries behind. Even in wealthy countries such as Australia, there is a group of people who have been unable to participate, who are left behind in this market-driven world.
We also need to recall that markets can sometimes be capricious and irrational. When politicians make mistakes, at least they can be held accountable; the market cannot be.
Many governments have grown harsher in their judgments. There is less commitment to assist the Third World. There is a great need for advocacy to reverse these trends if the problems of poverty and desperation and the politics that flow from that are to be overcome.
There is also another aspect which affects organisations such as CARE. There are thousands of refugees who cannot find a place in a safe country. We have all accepted the obligations of the Refugee Convention which states that a refugee has a right to asylum and safety in another country but, if other countries will not provide that place, the right is of no consequence.
The United States has given a generous and open lead in the resettlement of refugees. No country's borders have been more open; no country has been more willing to accept people who might initially have been regarded as "different". Since the end of the Vietnamese conflict about one and a quarter million Vietnamese have settled in America, over 200,000 in Canada, 120,000 in France and about 200,000 in Australia .
Until some years ago, Australia, after the Second World War, became one of the more generous countries in relation to our population concerning the acceptance of refugees. We have built a multicultural society which has been open to people all around the world but in very recent times we have lost our way with compassion and openness. We have spoken of defending our borders as though three, four or five thousand people coming to Australia in boats offers a substantial threat to our national sovereignty.
In the last fifty years, this country has embraced people from many lands, from different cultures and religions. They have all made good Australians. Why is it that in the last two or three years we have suddenly embraced a different philosophy and a different outcome? It is something that I never believed would happen.
The problem we have to many of you would appear small because Europe is faced with over 400,000 asylum seekers a year and every country in Europe has a much more relaxed regime than our compulsory, mandatory, non-reviewable detention for men, women and children, even unaccompanied children, that can go on for years.
I make these points, not because I want to say how much I disagree with the policies Australia now pursues but to emphasize an obligation which I believe in some degree affects us all, to fight discrimination wherever it occurs. Once discrimination begins, it inevitably spreads. It is this group today, it will be another group tomorrow. Countries that allow this to happen will never know racial peace and harmony. It is all the more important to fight these elements today because there is the additional risk of a major cultural divide in the world between the followers of Islam and the rest of us.
It seems to me that these issues are central to the humanitarian and developmental mission which CARE so willingly embraces. Unless good sense and decency prevails, discrimination will not only make our work much harder, it will also magnify the volume of the work and the numbers of people who will need our help and compassion.
How far CARE will decide to take the role of advocacy I do not know and in these words I have expressed my own feelings. But the world is becoming more difficult, it is becoming more polarised. I happen to believe there is an obligation on all people to speak against racism and discrimination. CARE has the capacity and the experience. It can, if it chooses become a powerful voice and one which it would be hard to deny. I do not believe that this would be becoming political because these matters in my view are above politics and are fundamental to a decent world. We need to rediscover the humanity of which all men and women are capable. Again, thank you very much indeed for the honour you have done me today.