Reaffirming Australian Values Against Headwinds of Isolationism

Marc Purcell

16 Feb, 2017

The launch of ACFID’s 2017 electoral snapshots at Parliament showed growing public support across the country for Australian aid and development. Against the headwinds of isolationism, they showed the resilience of Australian values of a fair-go, equity for those doing it tough and generosity to help others.

From speakers and those in the room, there was a resolute determination to hold fast and a collective agreement that we must continue to tell the stories of Australia’s strong and effective aid program and the invaluable work of Australian NGOs. As Andrew Broad MP put it: “we need to sing it from the hill tops, as it is one of the great things we are achieving as Australians”.

The statistics showed that donations from Australian communities increased by 10% between 2014-15. Over 1.6m Australians supporting 130 Australian aid and development NGOs made financial donations totalling $921m, with around 80,000 Aussies giving their time to international causes. Remarkably, Australian communities raised over $143m (2014-15) to help nations through humanitarian emergencies such as tropical cyclone Pam and the catastrophic earthquake in Nepal.

For me, the numbers are both awe-inspiring and humbling. It is a demonstration of a growing number of generous Australians who care about helping others overseas. For Shadow Minister for International Development, Senator Claire Moore, the snapshots were a “reaffirmation of why Australia feels strongly about an important international development agenda” and a tool to hold up to critics who say Australia doesn’t care. She urged parliamentarians and those in the room to be ready and prepared for the arguments from those who wish to turn inwards. She’s right.

But why does it matter? Why is it important?

As a wealthy nation, in a relatively poor region, and as the US withdraws from international leadership, Australia must take a stronger stance in the Asia-Pacific, projecting and setting values which will sure-up Australia’s future prosperity and security. We must define our own context, engaging the region in a manner consistent with our values: cooperation, democracy, egalitarianism and a fair-go. As the Minister stated in her speech, Australians help make our region a safer and more prosperous place. Let’s continue that work using the values we hold.

A values-based approach helps us avoid short-termism and transactional approaches to foreign affairs. To tackle the fundamental challenges of our time, such as climate change, we must move away from playing zero-sum games and build greater coalitions and partnerships with our neighbours. This approach will be instrumental in combatting future disease threats and responding to humanitarian conflicts, people movement and migration.

A Government should reflect the views of the people it represents, both at home and abroad. We will use evidence –  like the electoral snapshots – to show to our leaders how strongly these values resonate across Australian society and argue that they should be projected to the rest of world and fundamental in creating a long-term vision for Australia. With the Foreign Policy White Paper currently being consulted on, there is no better time and place to start.

Head to to see the community support in your state or local electorate.

  • Marc Purcell
    Marc Purcell

    Marc Purcell is the Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Council for International Development (ACFID) and joined in 2009. ACFID unites over 130 Australian international aid and development organisations that work to alleviate poverty and injustice in over 100 countries.  ACFID members raise around $1.5 billion from a variety of sources and are supported by 1.5 million Australian’s annually. ACFID acts as a NGO regulator and runs a Code of Conduct including an independent public complaints system for signatories to its Code.

    Marc has worked for 25 years in the community, international development and human rights sectors in Australia. He started out working with intellectually disabled people in transition programs to independent living.

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