Peace at the Policy Table: Australia's Path Forward 21 February 2024 - Speech

Peace at the Policy Table: Australia's Path Forward*

Australian Peacebuilding Network Roundtable, Canberra
21 February 2024

I acknowledge the Ngunnawal people, on whose lands we are meeting today, and to all First Nations people present.

I acknowledge Kate Wallace, First Assistant Secretary of the Multilateral Policy, First Nations and Human Rights Division at DFAT and Dr Tania Miletic, Deputy Director of the Initiative for Peacebuilding at the University of Melbourne — thank you for the warm introduction.

Thank you to John Langmore for the invitation to address today’s Australian Peacebuilding Network Roundtable. John is Professorial Fellow and Chair of the Initiative for Peacebuilding Board at the University of Melbourne. He is also my predecessor, having served as member for Fraser, my former electorate, from 1984 to 1996. In 1988, I was lucky enough to do work experience for John for a fortnight. This ‘New’ Parliament House had just opened, and it was a delight for an idealistic, politically engaged 16-year-old to work in John’s office. He was generous with his time, thoughtful in providing me with interesting work, and optimistic about the power of good policy to change lives for the better. Since leaving parliament, John has been an engaged and energetic contributor to the policy debate – a role model as to what a post-political life can contribute to Australia.

Today I will focus on how Australians have contributed their ideas and vision to shaping the field of peacebuilding. And as you begin discussions, I hope you find inspiration in these stories.

H.V. Evatt and the United Nations

Peace is underpinned by economic and social justice. This was a key belief of one of Australia’s most consequential Foreign Ministers — H.V. Evatt — Minister for External Affairs and Attorney-General in the Curtin and Chifley governments.

Evatt was an “intellectual driving force” of the Australian delegation to the 1945 United Nations Conference on International Organization in San Francisco (Londey, Crawley & Horner, 2019). This was where 50 nations gathered after the Second World War to develop an international charter to solve conflicts, peacefully resolve differences, and work cooperatively.

Evatt believed deeply that peace and stability could not be achieved through “the mere absence of military hostilities”. Rather, lasting peace had to depend on social and economic justice (Londey, Crawley & Horner, 2019).

As my former employer Michael Kirby has noted, even before 1945, Evatt sought to promote universal full employment, realising that economics would be vital — not just to individual rights — but also to international peace and security (Kirby, 2009).

These beliefs shaped his work at the United Nations. In discussions leading to the adoption of the UN Charter, Evatt fought hard to ensure that priorities included: freedom for all; respect for human rights; full employment; and better living standards.

Evatt pushed successfully for the establishment of the UN Economic and Social Council. And he strongly advocated for the rights of smaller nations, seeking to secure their representation and voice in the UN’s decision-making processes.

The New York Times later noted Evatt’s determination to build peace: “There are just two kinds of power in the world”, the paper reported, “one is military… The other kind of power is in men’s minds… Dr Evatt speaks for this power in men’s minds.” (Londey, Crawley & Horner, 2019).


The development of peacekeeping has given substance to Evatt’s ideas about what peace should entail (Londey, Crawley & Horner, 2019).

Today, peacekeeping operations seek to addresses all four of the fundamental aims of the United Nations: to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war; to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights; to uphold international law and treaties; and to promote social progress (Londey, Crawley & Horner, 2019).

The peacekeeping researcher who has most influenced my thinking is Professor Kevin Clements, Professor in Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Otago. I’ve known Kevin since I was a child, and I have always been impressed by his passion for peacekeeping, and optimism about building a better world. As he explains, sustained peacebuilding involves four factors: (1) channelling energy towards positive change; (2) changing the structural economic, social and political drivers of conflict; (3) seeing conflict as a social and economic issue, rather than solely political, and involving diverse stakeholders accordingly and (4) building peace at any stage in the escalatory cycle (Clements, 1997).

From Indonesia to Cyprus and many more places around the world, thousands of Australians have contributed towards this vital process through peacekeeping operations, often serving alongside peacekeepers from many other nations.

The Australian Peacekeeping Memorial, just across the water from Parliament, commemorates their service. There, a glowing passage between two large blocks represents the light they have contributed to peacekeeping around the world.

Its opening in 2017 marked the 70th anniversary of Australia’s involvement in peacekeeping, acknowledging over 80,000 Australians who have been involved in more than 60 peacekeeping missions.

Australia continues this commitment today in many ways — including as a consistent partner and top ten donor to the United Nations Peacebuilding Fund (Wong, 2023) — and as the twelfth largest contributor to the overall UN Peacekeeping Budget (Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, 2024).


Peace is never assured. We must continue to invest ourselves in resolving differences and preventing catastrophic conflict – in a way which honours the vital idea that peace depends on sustainable development, and vice versa. This is an agenda that the United Nations advances to this day.

As Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong highlighted in her statement to the United Nations General Assembly last year, progress towards the UN’s 2030 Agenda and “blueprint for peace and prosperity” has been slow.  But we must continue our determined effort to work towards these goals.

Australia has taken actions which show our belief in the importance of social and economic progress for peace. This includes the launch of Invested: Australia’s Southeast Asia Economic Strategy to 2040, which will support the pursuit of economic growth and development in the region (Wong, 2023).  

And Australia continues its long commitment to promoting peace through institutions. In 2025, Australia will sit on the United Nations Peacebuilding Commission (Wong, 2023), the UN’s intergovernmental advisory body which supports peace efforts in countries emerging from conflict.

It is vital that we take inspiration from peacebuilders of the past, and continue to make progress by applying them to the challenges faced in peacebuilding today.

That is why discussions like today’s are so important. They are an opportunity to develop ideas and solutions, and to continue Australia’s long history of promoting peace in our region and beyond.


Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. (2024). United Nations (UN). [website].

Clements, Kevin (1997) "Peace Building and Conflict Transformation," Peace and Conflict Studies,  Vol. 4, No. 1, Article 2.‌

Kirby, M. (2009). Herbert Vere Evatt, the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights after 60 Years. University of Western Australia Law Review, 34(2), 238-260.

Londey, P., Crawley, R. and Horner, D. (2019). The Long Search for Peace: Volume 1, The Official History of Australian Peacekeeping, Humanitarian and Post-Cold War Operations. Cambridge University Press.

Wong, P. 2023. National Statement to the United Nations General Assembly. 23 September 2023, New York.

* My thanks to Frances Kitt for drafting assistance.

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  • Georgia Thompson
    published this page in What's New 2024-02-21 11:42:00 +1100

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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.