• The trouble with politics

    Posted by Amanda

    24 November, 2011

    The trouble is that politicians are always looking to the next poll, the next election, the next emergency solution rather than making brave long-term and sustainable decisions.

    Julia Gillard at G20 CannesJulia Gillard at G20 CannesJulia Gillard at G20 CannesIt’s often called the 'Eisenhower Principle' after his saying: "What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important."

    So earlier this month in Cannes, when leaders of all the major economies in the world gathered for the G20, short-term interventions to fix the urgent Eurozone crisis sucked the air and media attention from innovative important ideas.

    Greece, a nation of 11 million people, has managed to distract and frustrate G20 leaders. I wonder if other nations of 11 million outside Europe would have the same ability to attract bailout money of €200 billion / AU$275 billion (this is the total promised by the 2010 bailout and the latest package). Chad, Guinea and Tunisia all have a similar population but their poverty, their debt and their challenges go largely ignored.

    Haiti, a country with a population about the same as that of Greece has been promised $5.2 billion to help it recover from the earthquake in 2010 which ravaged the island, destroying 250,000 homes and 50 hospitals as well as leaving 1.5 million homeless.Earthquake in Haiti 2010Earthquake in Haiti 2010Earthquake in Haiti 2010

    Or compare Greece’s bailout with the annual amount needed to meet all the Millennium Development Goals everywhere - just $210 billion.

    So the important work of addressing inequality and encouraging sustainable growth in the 90% of nations NOT sitting around the G20 table was diverted by the crisis in a nation which threatens the stability and wellbeing of the wealthiest nations.

    The focus of the G20 was no great surprise, but our job as people trying to be prophetic and insightful, is to keep on drawing attention to financial folly and selfishness.

    The cynical view is that the G20 Summit was hijacked by the Eurozone crisis BUT some good ideas did emerge that won’t feature on the front pages of the Australian or the Daily Telegraph.

    Firstly, the G20 is conscious of the growing disparity between the rich and poor, inequality that leads to unrest and also wastes the talent and potential of millions caught in poverty. The G20 Development Group acknowledged in its communique, stating:

    “In the last 40 years of the 20th century, the gap between the average income of the richest 20 countries and of the poorest 20 countries doubled in size, with the wealthiest group reaching a level more than 30 times that of the poorest, leading to an unsustainable path of growing global inequalities, as well as concerns about the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015.”

    Acknowledging the problem is important but was there strong commitment to action to address such gross inequality (not only between rich and poor nations but within nations between the richest and poorest people)?

    Key areas addressed at the G20 were:

    Agriculture is back as a priority since the food crisis and because of concerns about a growing world population. This is good news for women who make up most of the work force in agriculture but only own a minuscule amount of land (less than 1%) or agricultural income. There was little detail about the G20’s version of what “sustainable” agriculture will look like, though there was support for more research and more private involvement. There was only a vague commitment to equitable trade rules that will benefit farmers in poor nations who want to participate in the global market.

    The G20 has taken more steps on tax havens (one of the requests in Micah Challenge letters to French Ambassadors by a dozen nations). Leaders committed to signing a convention on fighting tax evasion and illicit tax flows and urged tax havens to join them. G20 nations will consider exchanging tax information automatically on a voluntary basis.

    The G20 recognised for the first time that multinational companies should improve tax transparency and fully comply with tax laws but did not make any concrete commitments to force them to do so. There was no support for a Publish What You Pay-type initiative, which was a second ask of Micah Challenge at the Cannes meeting.
    Three reports presented at the G20 made recommendations on how developing countries can fight tax dodging and raise more tax revenue for development. But firm action will have to wait.

    Finding new ways to finance development with a Financial Transaction Tax (FTT), such as a Robin Hood Tax, has been championed for a number of years by NGOs and some economists. It is gaining wider acceptance and could help the poorest people in France, Burundi, Germany, Brazil, Afghanistan and South Sudan. That tax was not forgotten at Cannes and drew broader support because France and Germany were positive. It was also championed by Bill Gates in his report for the Summit on innovative ways to deal with poverty. If an FTT can help nations deal with domestic poverty as well as global poverty and climate change, that is no bad thing.

    All these important ideas would not feature if it were not for researchers and campaigners who bring the important before the altar of the urgent.

    So as you read the news of Cannes, take time to go past the headlines and keep on fighting for the important. The G20 makes recommendations that need action at the national level and that’s where we can be a voice.


    Amanda Jackson is the Campaigns Coordinator for Micah Challenge International and the former National Coordinator of Micah Challenge Australia.