Uniya warns over low Australian engagement in Asia-Pacific

A new study by Uniya Jesuit Social Justice Centre has found that there is still significant goodwill in the Asia-Pacific region towards Australia but director Mary Bryant warns that the level of Australian involvement in the region remains "worryingly low".

The claim has been made following the release of the Centre's report on the Government's performance in 2006 in its relations with the Asia-Pacific region, timed to coincide with the return of parliament yesterday.

Claimed to be the most comprehensive study of its kind in Australia, the survey involving nearly 100 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) from South East Asia and the Pacific was conducted last year from June to August in partnership with Griffith Asia Institute.

The study, which seeks to understand neighbouring NGO perceptions of Australia, found significant goodwill towards Australia in the region.

Commenting on the research, Ms Bryant said that "the region in general feels positive about Australia but the survey suggests there are areas that require attention".

The report found that while many respondents said their feelings about Australia remained the same in the past year, of those whose feelings have changed, nearly twice as many said their feelings have changed for the worse.

Putting Australia on notice, NGOs in the Pacific, ironically the group with the most contact with Australians, have become even more dissatisfied about Australia over the past year compared to their Asian counterparts, the Uniya report says.

Top concern listed by the Asia-Pacific NGOs was protection of the global environment while control of illegal immigration, combating terrorism, and strengthening their country's economy were listed as among the least important foreign policy goals.

The study also found that Australia's strict immigration laws, its restrictions on temporary working visas, and its harsh policy on asylum seekers are impacting on Australia's reputation.

The quantity and quality of Australian development aid and unfair trade have also been listed as barriers to better relations.

The findings have prompted a warning from Ms Bryant who claims that "the level of our engagement with Asia and the Pacific - beyond the official channels - remains worryingly low."

"The study suggests that talking about good diplomacy, improving the environment and better trade are not enough. Our neighbours want real action," she said.

"The survey offers a number of suggestions from our regional neighbours that the Government will ignore at its own peril as it seeks greater ties with ASEAN and greater influence over events in the Pacific."

Centre releases report on Govt Asia Pacific relations 5Uniya, Media Release, 6/2/07)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Uniya Jesuit Social Justice Centre | Report card on Australia's relations with the region 2007

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7 Feb 2007