Time to Redefine the National Interest

20 September 2004

The Uniting Church believes that it is time for our political leaders to redefine the meaning of the national interest.

The President, Rev. Dr Dean Drayton today said that too often the national interest is invoked to describe policy directions and decisions which are selfish and greedy.

"Australia's real national interest lies in our commitment to the well-being of all people. Our future will never be secure while the world still suffers the effects of inequality, poverty, greed and violence.

"Australia's national interest will always be served when we take seriously the costs of our policies to people living in other parts of the world. It will always be served when we behave as a generous and compassionate country and it will always be served when we act in the world to improve the lives of as many people as possible," Rev. Drayton said.

"For Australia to be a good global citizen we need to be willing to take a lead in working to transform the world into a community that operates on principles of social, economic and environmental justice and peace."

The Uniting Church believes that Australia's support for the United Nations is a vitally important aspect of our global citizenship.

Rev. Elenie Poulos, National Director of UnitingJustice, said that this is why the Uniting Church has been concerned about the Howard Government's reactions to critique by some UN human rights treaty committees.

"The Government has been disdainful and dismissive of many recent UN committee reports, refusing to engage in constructive conversation. This sends a message to other countries that it is acceptable to hide behind the claims of national sovereignty and national interest whenever adverse criticism is offered.

"We are also concerned that the Government has sought changes to the UN treaty system that would reduce the ability of committees to critique democratic governments."

"One sign of a truly democratic country is its commitment to accountability and transparency. How can we call for such openness on the part of other countries while claiming an exemption for ourselves? It is both hypocrisy and poor international leadership.

"The Howard Government has reduced Australia's reporting to UN committees and restricted their visits to Australia. They have even refused to allow Australian women to seek any recourse for human rights abuses from the UN Committee charged with eliminating all forms of discrimination against women.

"The Labor Party, in its National Platform, promises to 'advance more than self interest' in its foreign policy and to actively contribute to the UN. It has, however, recently demonstrated a willingness to contradict its own party platform. In light of the apparent ease with which policy backflips are managed, we call on the Labor Party to recommit its support for the UN and detail how its promise to deliver a less selfish foreign policy will take effect.

"We call on all parties to support a return to generous funding of the UN and commit Australia to working with UN agencies in a positive and constructive manner. We must not continue down the destructive path of withholding funding to the UN and its agencies and undermining its authority.

"The UN is not perfect but it is one of the key institutions for the development of good global order. Australia's role as a global citizen must include supporting its healthy, democratic reform. Australia's national interest will be served by working with the UN for a just and peaceful world," Rev. Poulos said.