Chapter 1. Australia’s global efforts for sustainable development

Efforts to support global sustainable development

Peer review indicator: The member plays an active role in contributing to global norms, frameworks and public goods that benefit developing countries

Australia actively seeks to shape global co-operation on priority issues that meet both the national interest and the interests of its neighbours. It has elevated issues such as disaster risk reduction in international fora, consistently advocates on issues important to small island developing states, and contributed to the consensus behind the 2030 Agenda. Australia has yet to set out its roadmap for the Sustainable Development Goals. .

Australia is an influential global player

Australia has a strong voice on the global stage. It actively and consistently advocates for the interests of small island developing states and the Pacific region, as well as for issues such as disability, gender equality, peace and security, and ocean management.

Australia purposefully sets out to be a part of the global conversation. For example, it campaigned for and attained a seat on the UN Human Rights Council for the period 2018-20,1 and for a two-year term in 2013-14 as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council. Australia considers and uses the Group of Twenty (G20) as the premier forum for shaping collective action to support strong, sustainable and balanced growth. During Australia’s G20 presidency in 2014, the G20 integrated development issues into its wider concerns over inadequate long-term financing for infrastructure and tax base erosion. Australia also was instrumental in putting the gender digital divide on the agenda at the G20 summit in 2017 in Hamburg, Germany.2

On its priority issues, Australia was influential in the negotiations leading up to the 2030 Agenda. However, unlike other countries, Australia does not yet have in place a clear plan for implementing the 2030 Agenda. With the announcement that it will present its first Voluntary National Review at the 2018 High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development3 at the UN, Australia has the opportunity to take stock of progress and challenges and to set out a roadmap for integrating the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into domestic and international policy.

Australia targets risks and challenges critical to its interests and its regional environment

A priority task of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), noted in its 2015-19 strategic framework, is to “shape the regional and international environment and strengthen global co-operation in ways that advance Australia’s interests” (DFAT, 2015a). Australia therefore gives priority to the global and regional public goods and risks that align with its national interests. The newly published Foreign Policy White Paper underscores this approach (DFAT, 2017b). Australia often works through the multilateral system and regional organisations to achieve key objectives. The following are some examples:

  • Australia has shown global leadership in fragility and disaster risk by actively working to ensure the adoption of SDG 16; co-chairing the UN Security Council for the adoption of the 2016 resolution on sustaining peace;4 signing recent, major global fragility and humanitarian agreements including the Stockholm Declaration5 and the Grand Bargain;6 and taking a lead role in the negotiations on the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.7

  • Australia renewed its commitment to the Paris Agreement on climate change after the United States announced it would withdraw. Australia co-chairs and is a member of the Green Climate Fund Board. Using these positions, it seeks to highlight the vulnerability of Pacific nations and to increase and expedite funding to these nations. In June 2017, the Australian Senate passed a motion for an inquiry into the threats and long-term risks posed by climate change to national and international security. The 2016 Defence White Paper recognises climate change as a major driver that will shape the overall security environment to 2035 (Department of Defence, 2016).8

  • Australia has announced a significant push on regional health security. With the new AUD 300-million Indo-Pacific Health Security Initiative,9 DFAT and the Department of Health seek to target existing and emerging infectious diseases in Australia and surrounding countries, with the initial focus on drug-resistant tuberculosis and malaria in the region.

Australia has a long-standing refugee resettlement programme for people accorded refugee status within its borders. However, at the same time, regional – or offshore - processing of asylum seekers in Papua New Guinea (PNG) and Nauru since 2013, permanently denying access to Australia to those who arrive by sea without a valid visa, has drawn criticism. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), for example, has raised concerns that the policy has caused suffering and uncertainty for an estimated 2000 people including children.10

While Australia has met its policy objective of stemming illegal migration to its territory, these regional processing arrangements have been subject to international criticism and legal challenges. In September 2017, the Supreme Court of Victoria approved an AUD 70-million settlement, to be paid by the Commonwealth and its service providers, in a group proceeding brought by a representative plaintiff on behalf of group members who resided at the Manus Regional Processing Centre between November 2012 and May 2016.11

The Manus Island centre closed on 31 October 2017. In 2016, Australia reached an agreement with the United States (US) to resettle refugees from PNG and Nauru. In February 2017, the US announced an indicative planning number of 1250 refugees to be resettled in the US, subject to US screening and admission processes. US resettlement commenced in September 2017, with 54 refugees resettling in the US. The arrangement is progressing under US direction. According to the Australian authorities, refugees currently located in Nauru and PNG have other resettlement options, outside the US, including PNG and Cambodia, and Australia continues to work in concert with Nauru and PNG to identify durable resettlement options for refugees in those countries.

Policy coherence for sustainable development

Peer review indicator: Domestic policies support or do not harm developing countries

The integration of AusAID into DFAT has facilitated stronger policy coherence for development in relation to international policies such as trade. Australia’s seasonal worker programmes are also evolving and delivering mutual benefits. However, coherence between domestic policies and Australia’s development objectives is more challenging in other areas. A prioritised plan and stronger use of inter-governmental co-ordination mechanisms would help Australia analyse and address these issues.

Australia has made a commitment to policy coherence for sustainable development, which should be strengthened in light of the 2030 Agenda

One of the priorities set out in the 2016-20 DFAT corporate plan is to “promote strong alignment between Australia’s aid programme and the department’s other priorities, particularly trade and climate change initiatives, and with domestic policy agenda” (DFAT, 2016a). The current cross-government discussions on the SDGs offer Australia an opportunity to further prioritise policy coherence for sustainable development issues through additional analysis, monitoring and reporting. This in turn would enable Australia to make more progress against the recommendation from the last peer review in 2013, which said Australia should share publicly both its achievements and its challenges in terms of making national and foreign policies coherent with development aspirations (OECD, 2013).

Challenging policy coherence issues weigh against some notable coherence gains

Australia can point to examples of policy coherence, particularly in its international policy settings. Coherence is partly supported by the integration of development, foreign affairs and trade into DFAT in 2013 (Chapter 4). Box 1.1 presents illustrations of coherence in the trade domain.

Australia’s long-standing labour mobility programme is co-ordinated across government. It links workers from participating Pacific Island countries and Timor-Leste with Australian employers in the agriculture, accommodation, hospitality and tourism industries. Since 2012, over 17 000 visas have been issued under this Seasonal Worker Programme.

A recent analysis based on two models for expanding access to Australia’s labour market finds that permitting 1% of the population of the Pacific to work permanently in Australia would deliver more benefits to the Pacific peoples by 2040 than would Australia’s current aid programme (Berkelmans and Pryke, 2016). Therefore, it is encouraging that Australia is now seeking to expand labour mobility with the establishment of a Pacific Labour Scheme set to begin in 2018. The new scheme will initially enable up to 2 000 workers from Kiribati, Nauru and Tuvalu to take up low and semi-skilled work opportunities in rural and regional Australia for up to three years. The scheme will be extended to other Pacific Island countries over the course of 2018 based on need and impact. As witnessed in Solomon Islands and from successful New Zealand programmes, there is a demand and potential for this – and further - expansion of labour mobility from the Pacific to Australia.

Convergence is less clear between Australia’s development objectives and a range of policy positions related to finance, environment and security.

Australia has improved its score on the Financial Secrecy Index by putting in place important measures to fight tax evasion and tax avoidance (Center for Global Development, 2017). Australia also has a good understanding of its money laundering risks, co-ordinates domestically to address these risks and has highly effective mechanisms for international co-operation. According to a recent evaluation by the OECD Working Group on Bribery, Australia has stepped up its enforcement of foreign bribery since 2012, when Australia’s implementation of the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention was last evaluated, with seven convictions in two cases and 19 ongoing investigations. However, in view of the level of exports and outward investment by Australian companies in jurisdictions and sectors at high risk for corruption, the evaluation recommends that Australia must continue to increase its level of enforcement (OECD, forthcoming).

The monitoring of Australian businesses overseas has been criticised as being weak. An example is a recent claim regarding non-observance by the Australian National Contact Point of the Procedural Guidance to the OECD’s Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.12 In June 2017, Australia commissioned an independent review of its National Contact Point including the effectiveness of the current structure.

Despite strong commitment to bring down the cost of sending remittances from Australia, these costs remain high (Chapter 3).

Australia ranks 26th out of 27 countries in the environment component of the Commitment to Development Index. This is due to its very low gasoline taxes. Australia also has relatively high greenhouse gas emissions per capita and is the world’s third most important importer of tropical timber (Center for Global Development, 2017). Australia has committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 to between 26% and 28% of 2005 levels. Nevertheless, it continues to provide tax breaks to the coal industry, including for new mines, and Australia is the biggest net exporter of coal.

Australia’s Defence Industry Minister has indicated that Australia plans to significantly increase exports of weapons. Such an increase will require that adequate resources be allocated to ensure that neither Australia’s strategy of countering violent extremism nor its support to fragile states is undermined. These measures would be in line with Australia’s strong contribution to the adoption of the Arms Trade Treaty in 2013.

In light of these challenging coherence issues, opportunities exist for DFAT to make stronger use of a range of consultative mechanisms and inter-departmental working groups. This would increase awareness of the potential impact of policy choices on development and help DFAT use policy levers beyond aid, as it does with cross-government technical support to developing countries (Chapter 4).

Box 1.1. A development-friendly trade liberalisation agenda

Australia is a forceful advocate for greater and more ambitious trade liberalisation, in recognition of the mutual benefits accruing to Australia and developing countries from international trade and investment. The integration of trade and development within the same department, DFAT, has facilitated enhanced coherence. This is illustrated in the following examples.

  • Australia ranks in the top 10 on trade in the Commitment to Development Index. Australia has the second lowest agricultural subsidy rate of 27 countries evaluated in the Index, underscoring its leadership in providing equal access for agricultural products from developing countries (Center for Global Development, 2017). It also has low barriers to trade in services.

  • Australia was one of 14 countries that concluded negotiations on the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations (PACER Plus) in April 2017. This agreement will promote the economic development of Pacific Island Forum countries through greater regional trade and economic integration.13 In addition to locking in duty-free access to the Australian market for PACER Plus parties, Australia will support the parties to build their capacity to trade including by modernising their customs and biosecurity systems.

  • Australia provides complete duty-free, quota-free (DFQF) access for imports from least developed countries (LDCs). Exports to Australia from Bangladesh, Cambodia and some other LDCs have increased since the introduction of the DFQF preferences.

  • Australia plays a leading role in the diffusion of technology to developing countries. It has the third best score (out of 27 countries) on the intellectual property rights indicator in the 2017 Commitment to Development Index (Center for Global Development, 2017). Through its co-operation with the World Intellectual Property Organization, Australia also is placing scientists from developing countries in the world’s leading research organisations to develop better treatment options for neglected tropical diseases, malaria and tuberculosis (OECD/WTO, 2017).

  • Australia matches or exceeds best performance in trade facilitation indicators in terms of information availability, appeal procedures, fees and charges, border agency co-operation (internal and external), and governance and impartiality.1

Australia also has made aid for trade a bigger priority (Chapter 2). The 2015 Strategy for Australia’s Aid for Trade Investments seeks to ensure a coherent approach to trade and development and effective investments that meet the needs of developing countries (DFAT, 2015b).2

1. See

2. Australia’s aid for trade priorities include trade and investment policy, trade facilitation, global value chains, private sector development, services, economic empowerment of women, knowledge and skills development, infrastructure and agriculture. A recent evaluation found that DFAT’s aid for trade investments have been effective in addressing capacity issues, have the potential to make significant impacts on poverty reduction, and contain many elements of good global practice as well as lessons for Australia going forward. More information is available at Gearing up for trade: Australia’s support for trade facilitation programs,

Global awareness

Peer review indicator: The member promotes whole of society contributions to sustainable development

Public attitudes in Australia tend to suggest a sympathetic view towards global issues and challenges but less support for aid. Australia now is committed to revive its efforts to communicate effectively on sustainable development, following a period of adjustment after the integration of AusAID into DFAT. Engaging with the public on issues of global citizenship would build on long-standing people-to-people and educational exchanges between Australia and its neighbours.

DFAT is committed to improve its communications in response to a growing evidence base on global awareness

The 2017 Lowy Institute poll14 provides important insights into the Australian public’s views on global issues and citizenship. The following are some of the poll findings.

  • Against the backdrop of a surge in nationalism and protectionism in the Western world, 78% of Australians think globalisation is “mostly good” for Australia and a majority of those polled said they saw benefits in free trade for themselves and the country.

  • A majority of Australians (54%) say “global warming is a serious and pressing problem [and] we should begin taking steps now even if this involves significant costs”. This is consistent with other polls in Australia on this issue and the previous year’s Lowy Institute Poll.

  • A large majority (81%) say Australia “should intervene to provide military and humanitarian support” if “there is another major crisis in the Pacific, such as happened in Solomon Islands in 2003”.

The poll (Lowy Institute, 2017) also suggests that Australians are not troubled by reductions in the aid budget, with 73% saying the current aid budget of approximately AUD 3.8 billion is either “about the right amount” or “too much”. The response was nearly the same in 2015 when the aid budget was AUD 5 billion, or 30% higher. Misperceptions as to the amount of money spent on aid also persist.15

DFAT has recently conducted its own public attitudes research, after many years. While the findings have not been released yet, this research in combination with other surveys will provide an evidence base for targeting communications, development education and global awareness efforts.

The last peer review in 2013 praised AusAID’s efforts on public awareness as strategic, well resourced, evidence-based, targeted and monitored (OECD, 2013). The integration of AusAID into DFAT, with the attendant transfer to new communications platforms and the loss of dedicated communication resources, has slowed some of this momentum. Betteridge (2016) finds that information was not being shared in a way that was user-friendly for an average Australian.

In recognition of the lack of accessible information and with its investment in an evidence base, Australia is now committed to better tailor, brand and resource its communications and development education efforts at home to build awareness of global development issues. For example, DFAT has already increased its social media presence at home and abroad.

People-to-people exchanges add to Australia’s global outlook

Australia’s commitment to scholarship and volunteer programmes is building connections between peoples, nations and cultures and contributing to regional and global awareness.

Over the course of more than 60 years, Australia has invested in providing 80 000 individuals from developing countries the opportunity to pursue tertiary education in Australia. The Australia Awards16 complement the Australian government’s New Colombo Plan that enables undergraduates from Australian universities to live, study and gain work experience in the Indo-Pacific region (DFAT, 2016b).

Another long-running initiative is Australian Volunteers for International Development (AVID), whose volunteers “promote a positive perception of Australia in the region, and promote a positive perception of the aid program domestically” (DFAT, 2017c). In 2015/16, AVID deployed 1 345 volunteers across the Indo-Pacific region.17


Government sources

Department of Defence (2016), 2016 Defence White Paper, Canberra,

DFAT (2017a), “OECD DAC Peer Review of Australia’s Aid Program: Memorandum of Australia”, unpublished memorandum, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Canberra, (unpublished).

DFAT (2017b), Foreign Policy White Paper, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Canberra,

DFAT (2017c), Performance of Australian Aid 2015-16, DFAT, Canberra, .

DFAT (2016a), Corporate Plan 2016-2020, DFAT, Canberra,

DFAT (2016b), Australia Awards Global Strategy, DFAT, Canberra, .

DFAT (2015a), “Strategic framework 2015-19”, DFAT, Canberra, .

DFAT (2015b), Strategy for Australia’s Aid for Trade Investments, DFAT, Canberra, .

DPMC (2013), “The Coalition will restore strong, stable and accountable government”, Statement of Prime Minister Tony Abbott, 18 Sept. 2013, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet of Australia, .

ODE (2016), Gearing up for trade: Australia’s support for trade facilitation programs, ODE, DFAT, Canberra,

Productivity Commission (2017), “Rising protectionism: challenges, threats and opportunities for Australia”, Productivity Commission Research Paper, Canberra,

Other sources

Berkelmans, L. and J. Pryke (2016), “The development benefits of expanding Pacific access to Australia’s labour market”, Lowy Institute, Sydney,

Betteridge, A. (2016), “Communication post-integration: reloading Australia’s efforts”, Policy Brief 15, Development Policy Centre, Australian National University, Canberra.

Center for Global Development (2017), The Commitment to Development Index 2017, (database), .

Dornan, M. (2017), “Australian PM announces new Pacific Labour Scheme”, Devpolicyblog, (accessed 10 September 2017).

FATF/APG (2015), Measures to Combat Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing: Australia, Financial Action Task Force, OECD Publishing, Paris/Asia Pacific Group on Money Laundering, Sydney,

Lowy Institute (2017), “2017 Lowy Institute Poll”, Lowy Institute, Sydney,

OECD (forthcoming), Australia Phase 4 Report

OECD DAC (2013), OECD Development Co-operation Peer Review Australia 2013, OECD Publishing, Paris,

OECD/WTO (2017), Aid for Trade at a Glance 2017: Promoting Trade, Inclusiveness and Connectivity for Sustainable Development, OECD Publishing, Paris/WTO, Geneva, .


← 1. Australia was elected on 16 October 2017.

← 2. For more information on issues related to the gender digital divide, see .

← 3. The statement, issued by the Australian Mission to the United Nations, is at .

← 4. The UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2282 (2016) on the Review of United Nations Peacebuilding Architecture in April 2016. Australia co-chaired the negotiations with Angola.

← 5. The Stockholm Declaration on Addressing Fragility and Building Peace in a Changing World is available at .

← 6. The Grand Bargain is an agreement among more than 30 of the biggest donors and aid providers that “aims to get more means into the hands of people in need”. See .

← 7. The 2015-30 Sendai Framework is a non-binding agreement that aims for the “substantial reduction of disaster risk and losses in lives, livelihoods and health and in the economic, physical, social, cultural and environmental assets of persons, businesses, communities and countries”. See

← 8. See (accessed 20 June 2017).

← 9. The Indo-Pacific Centre for Health Security, a new unit within DFAT, leads the Health Security Initiative. Initial investments include AUD 75 million in grant funding for Product Development Partnerships and AUD 20 million for the WHO health emergencies programmes. The Initiative also comprises a new Health Security Corps to encourage Australian health professionals to share expert knowledge with other health professionals in the region.

← 10. See, for example, and

← 11. Kamasaee v Commonwealth of Australia & Ors (Approval of settlement) [2017] VSC 537.

← 12. On 24 November 2017, OECD Watch, a network of non-governmental organisations, made a substantiated submission about the Australian National Contact Point (NCP) to the Investment Committee as set out in the Procedural Guidance of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (Part II, Section II, Paragraph 2.b). This provision enables the Investment Committee to consider whether an NCP is fulfilling its responsibilities with regard to its handling of specific instances.

← 13. The Agreement was signed in Nuku’alofa in Tonga on 14 June 2017 by Australia, New Zealand and the eight Pacific island countries of Cook Islands, Kiribati, Nauru, Niue, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Tuvalu.

← 14. The 2017 Lowy Institute Poll reports the results of a nationally representative telephone survey of 1 200 Australian adults conducted on behalf of the Lowy Institute by the Social Research Centre between 1 March 2017 and 21 March 2017. The maximum sampling variance, or error margin, is +/-2.8%. See .

← 15. See (accessed 14 July 2017).

← 16. The Australia Awards are a whole-of-government initiative bringing together scholarships and fellowships offered by DFAT, the Department of Education and Training, and the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research. The majority (77%) of Australia Awards recipients come from the Indo-Pacific region. In 2015/16, the aid programme offered 2 031 new Australia Awards to students in 56 countries, with over 4 000 awardees present in Australia at any one time. In the same period, the Australia Awards programme spent AUD 328.9 million (USD 244.5 million) and 98%, or more than 1 600, Australia Awards scholarships awardees successfully completed their studies.

← 17. In 2015/16, 93% of AVID volunteers were placed in Asia and the Pacific; Indonesia, Cambodia, Fiji, Solomon Islands and Vietnam received the highest number. Volunteers worked to support Australian and partner government country priorities with 95% of new assignments aligned with Aid Investment Plans. In support of the aid programme’s thematic priorities 10% of volunteer assignments had a primary focus on gender equality, 15% of assignments focused on disability inclusion, and 25% of assignments engaged with the private sector. For more details, see