Three Ways to Raise Australia’s Game on the SDGs

Marc Purcell

12 Mar, 2018

17 goals and 169 targets – this is the plan to define the future of our planet as set out in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). For those who think this applies to someone else, somewhere else…frankly, you’re wrong. The goals speak to the most important challenges Australia faces: on inequality, see the gap in outcomes for Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians; on water sustainability and climate change, see the Murray-Darling basin and the Great Barrier Reef; and for affordable, reliable and clean energy, see the debate in South Australia. We must achieve the SDGs because not doing so would be to hand over a toxic legacy to the next generation. But how do we do it?

Agreed by 150 world leaders the SDGs set the goals of ending poverty and hunger, quality education, gender equality and much more. At 169 targets and even more success indicators, they are complex – sometimes overwhelming – but given their ambition to change the world by 2030, they probably need to be!

2018 is pivotal year for Australia and the SDGs. July will mark the first time Australia reports to the United Nations as part of our Voluntary National Review of SDG implementation. An inquiry at Parliament into the SDGs is now underway and will report at the end of the year. They present a unique opportunity for momentum on the SDGs and there’s three places we can start to take Australia’s work on the SDGs further and faster.  

Firstly, how many of your neighbours, friends and colleagues know what the SDGs are? The answer is likely to be: not many. Public awareness of the SDGs is low, very low. To achieve the SDGs, at the very least, we all need to know what they are and how they can help. Thankfully, the core of the SDGs speaks to Australia values of cooperation, a fair-go and being a good neighbour.

Set on these foundations, we need to build broader public awareness. Similar to the scale and impact of public health campaigns, SDG leaders across Government, business, academia and civil society need to take responsibility and join forces to raise the profile of this international agenda. To date, there has been a failure to take sustainable development from the United Nations, political backrooms and the boardroom, to schools, workplaces and the home.

Secondly, implementing the complex web of goals takes collaboration. The SDGs are not the sole responsibility of Government, nor should they be. Every sector and every individual in Australia must work collectively for a better future. But an area of Government strength that must be harnessed is planning.

Australia’s SDG team needs a strategist to bring everyone together to build a national implementation plan. The national plan to reduce violence against women and children is a positive example where the benefits of a linked national initiative are clear. This should be replicated when it comes to SDGs. The efforts of the Federal Government, state and territory governments, business, academia and civil society should not exist in isolation. When Australia committed to the goals in 2015, Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, described how the SDGs would only ever be a “statement of ambition unless we plan for how we will achieve them.” We agree. A national implementation plan is the how.

Thirdly, the face of poverty is changing. Most of the world’s poor now live in middle income countries. Australia can make smart interventions at a system level to multiply our impact. In the Pacific, this means using our aid program to assist communities with climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction. In a middle-income country like Indonesia, it means strengthening health and education systems.

People across Australia believe in a national policy that helps people in need and hold a long tradition for helping those doing-it-tough. Compared with many of our neighbours we are a wealthy nation. We can make afford to make these investments and follow the UK in rebuilding Australia’s aid budget to reach 0.7 per cent of our national income. Alongside a planned, stepped and predictable trajectory to reaching that target, we should make eliminating poverty and achieving the SDGs the primary purpose of Australia’s aid program.

Translating the SDGs to Australia to build our contribution and embrace them as relevant to our future is no mean feat. But 2018 is shaping up to be year Australia can grasp, to step-up its work and act in solidarity with the international community to tackle the global challenges of our time.

  • 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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