What does a First Nations foreign policy really mean?

Gavin Choong – Monash University – Melbourne Hub Delegate

In his election victory speech, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese committed, ‘in full’, to the Uluru Statement from the Heart. The Statement proposes a suite of reforms, including the constitutional recognition and empowerment of Australia’s First Nations peoples by allowing them to have a say in the laws, policies, and programs affecting their communities.

Appropriately, and fitting into Labor’s broader policy commitments to Indigenous affairs, the Australian Government has also recognised the importance of embedding Indigenous voices in our international engagement. For the first time in our country’s history, a call was made for an Ambassador for First Nations People. The role holder would steer the development of a First Nations foreign policy, with significant implications for ‘national security, economic trade, development, and government corporate policy’.

So why, now, do we need a First Nations foreign policy, and how might it look?

For starters, there is exceedingly low representation of Indigenous Australians in international affairs spaces. This echoes the persistent political exclusion First Nations peoples have been experiencing since before the Federation of Australia. It also fails to reflect the ‘80,000 years of diplomatic practice’ practiced by Indigenous Australians.

Indigenous approaches to inter-polity relations continue to exist today, surviving generations of dispossession of land and culture. A clear example of this is the Welcome to and Acknowledgement of Country, based upon the central notion of ‘reciprocity’. This protocol was traditionally practiced within First Nations communities to greet peoples from different areas. The inbound traveller would often yield a message stick and wait for custodians of the land to grant permission to enter and offer safe passage before encroaching upon foreign country.

Land, it is clear, plays a central role in Indigenous Australian political order. According to the worldview of First Nations peoples, everything from humans to animals, plants, rivers, and mountains were brought into existence by the land itself through ‘The Dreaming’. Distinct from European-derived understandings of international relations, Indigenous peoples see country as the ‘foundation for socio-political [order]’. As Wiradyuri man and Research Fellow in Indigenous Diplomacy at the Australian National University, James Blackwell, rightly puts, a First Nations foreign policy will ‘change the way we think about…national interest, the nation’s relationships and responsibilities, and even the way we think about our country’.

National Interest

It has long been acknowledged climate change remains the ‘defining issue of our age…the central challenge of our century’. Indigenous peoples will, unfortunately, be among the first to face the direct consequences of global warming despite contributing the least to greenhouse gas emissions.

A First Nations foreign policy puts those who will be hit the hardest front and centre. This includes communities living in the Torres Strait, just north of Queensland’s Cape York Peninsula, who fear their islands will soon be lost to rising sea levels. By incorporating a First Nations perspective in our approach to international relations, these communities have an opportunity to steer regional adaptation and mitigation action through their climate change experiences and traditional knowledge.

Aotearoa New Zealand, with past experience in allowing Indigenous values to shape foreign policy, provides a clear example of the impact this may have. In an address made earlier this year, Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta outlines how key Māori values – Manaakitanga (reciprocity), Whanaungatanga (kinship), Mahi tahi and kotahitanga (solidarity), Kaitiakitanga (intergenerational wellbeing) – play an important role in her country’s resilience approach. Indeed, this correlates closely with Aotearoa New Zealand’s commitment to provide $1.3 billion in climate finance to developing countries over the next four years.

Relationships and Responsibilities

As of late, increased international attention has been paid to the Indo-Pacific, reflecting the geoeconomic and geostrategic significance of the region. The Australian Government has also taken the opportunity to reset our approach in the Indo-Pacific throughout the past year, and a First Nations foreign policy is likely to play an important role in furthering our regional engagement.

A clear example of this is the New Zealand-led Indigenous Peoples Economic and Trade Cooperation Arrangement involving Taiwan, Canada, and Australia – Canada and Aotearoa New Zealand being two of our Five Eyes partners with Indigenous foreign policy strategies. Particularly in the case of Taiwan, First Nations cooperation plays a vital role in overcoming diplomatic isolation facing the island. As Taiwan’s sole representatives to the United Nations, its Indigenous communities are the ‘island’s international relations lifeline’. Continued engagement with these First Nations peoples has key cultural, political, and economic implications, and adds a new dimension to already highly contested claims of sovereignty.

Australia’s commitment to include Indigenous voices in our international affairs goes beyond the Indo-Pacific and may serve as an inspiration to another of our Five Eyes partners – the United States. Founded on Indigenous land and sharing a colonial history, the United States is able to draw upon successful models of First Nations inclusion in foreign policy like that introduced in Aotearoa New Zealand and, hopefully, Australia. Furthermore, by including Indigenous Australians in our international engagements, we are able to strengthen our ties in regions we are not as well connected to such as Latin America.

Our Country

Last year, the Indigenous Diplomacy Agenda was released by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade with the vision of ‘elevat[ing] indigenous issues in the work of the…portfolio’. It outlined four primary pillars of focus – Foreign Policy, Trade and Economic Policy, Development Policy, and Corporate Policy. The Indigenous Diplomacy Agenda, however, fell short by casting Indigenous Australians as ‘victims’ and ignoring their ‘sovereign agency’. This reflects a long struggle for self-determination (Article 3, United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People) which First Nations peoples around the world have faced for centuries. The Australian Government’s current commitment to a First Nations foreign policy seems to be an improvement, seeing as it will be co-designed with Indigenous Australians as ‘genuine partners’.

In the past, Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong has said ‘foreign policy starts with who we are’. Undeniably, our country has a brutal colonial past – the effects of which still persist today. While this is irreversible, our approach to international affairs can and should be adapted to reflect the ‘reality of modern Australia, including First Nations identities, perspectives, and practices’.

Australian Migration Policy and Soft-Power: Militarised policy threatens Security Imperatives for the Middle Power

Olivia Papagni – University of Adelaide – Adelaide Hub Delegate

The trend for policy makers to militarise borders or enhance security patrols along borders as a means of combating immigration has caused humanitarian concerns and questioning over the validity of such militarisation in the prevention and mitigation of migration flow. While it is acknowledged by the Australian Department of Defence that Australia must evolve and adapt to adequately meet the changing strategic environment, the middle power continues to follow in the footsteps of the US and Europe in putting forth policies that fail to consider and account for the root causes of migration whilst drawing in controversy around its operations. When considering Australia’s position on the world stage and within its immediate Indo-Pacific region, Australia simply cannot afford for the threat this poses for its national and foreign security and economic interests.

Being a middle power (which has been a paramount focus in Australia’s foreign policy discourse for over 60 years) means that Australia cannot simply control the Indo-Pacific or dominate the world stage, but rather seek to shape and influence the region through the mitigation of conflict and construction of consensus and cooperation. When considering how Australia aims to strengthen economic and security interdependencies and to forge diplomatic bonds and strategic connections within its immediate region, reputation is key for Australia in maintaining an international order which protects and advances its security interests. Australia’s reputation has been called into question considering how its immigration policy has been a focal point of controversy and humanitarian concern in recent years, due to the establishment and continuation of offshore detention centres and related operations.

Political cartoon by cartoonist and illustrator Simon Kneebone

Reports of medical care often being non-existent; difficulties in detainees getting access to legal institutions; and the humiliation that comes with the physical transfer to these militarised, “prison like” facilities, only scrapes the surface of concerns raised by national media and international legal bodies over a policy simply riddled with controversy. Various human rights organisations have condemned Australia’s militarised immigration policies for its appalling human rights record, often labelled as ‘state-sanctioned…child abuse’, and in particular by the United Nations (UN), as centres that constitute cruel punishment for its increasingly violent and unsafe offshore detention centre environments. Evidently, Australia’s disregard for its international law obligations does not sit well with its middle power status, and for good reason. Australia relies on being able to influence international bodies like the UN and Indo-Pacific political-security organisations and forums such as the East Asia Summit; the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Defence Ministers Meeting; and the ASEAN Regional Forum, to exercise power and exert influence over decision making processes and outcomes. Australia simply cannot expect to maximise and wield influence in these aforementioned multilateral organisations and engage in a rules based international order if it does not abide by its own proposed ‘Free and Open’ Pacific order or the rules that come with subscription to these international forums and organisations.

Political cartoon by Cartoonist and Illustrator Peter Broelman

So how can Australia expect to maximise its centrality in its immediate, increasingly changing environment in a way that lowers migration rates through humane immigration policy?

Instead of militarisation, the Australian government should look to initiatives akin to those in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade that seek partnerships for recovery and humanitarian assistance aimed at alleviating suffering and maintaining human dignity. Aid that increases governance resilience to crises through buildings confidence in state institutions has been better associated with governance aid rather than economic aid in reducing emigration rates from developing countries. In particular, an analysis of cross-national times-series data that covered 101 developing countries over twenty-five years (1985-2010) found that governance aid in support of the rule of law, human rights and quality of governance lowers immigration rates from developing countries. As a result, political push factors that motivate individuals to emigrate are alleviated by governance aid for its improvements in the political and economic wellbeing in source countries. This is most notably through the enhancement of political rights and improvement in political institutional capabilities to foster democracy and state transparency. Government efforts such as state-institution and governance building aimed to assist source countries (of which a significant amount come from within the Indo-Pacific) can build confidence not only in countries’ respective national institutions but also in the Free and Open Indo-Pacific agenda. Australia should aim for a new migration policy that recognises the role of the state and structural forces in influencing the volume and composition of migrants. In this way, the root causes of migration can be addressed. It is paramount that Australia adjusts its defence posture and priorities to adopt a regional perspective in formulating not just a more effective, but also humane response to migration.

One can only hope that the new government seeks to carve out a strategy towards migration that is respectful of human rights and dignity, reinforcing how Australia need not defence to strengthen its relationships with international partners in support of shared security interests. It is in the best interests of the nation and to migrants who seek political refuge, that the next government’s next Universal Periodic Review report to the United Nations and similar human rights reviews demonstrates Australia’s potential as an effective and trustworthy bargaining power through its commitment to humanitarian aid and concern for the quality of life abroad.

The Incel Movement, a growing threat towards Australian national security.

Dave Pereira – University of Western Australia – Virtual Hub Delegate

The incels movement has seen an increase in violent attacks in Canada, the U.K., and the U.S., becoming an increasing terrorist threat towards Australia’s national security. The covid-19 pandemic has created a striving environment for individuals who have faced isolation and loneliness, which make these people vulnerable towards recruitment and radicalisation.

These vulnerable individuals find themselves in Incel communities, where they find themselves with far-right groups on online platforms like Reddit and 4chan to express their misogynistic views. The United States intelligence agencies report a growing Incel terrorist threat happening across the country and Canada due to increased violent attacks resulting in mass casualties. The incels movement with links to far-right extremism is providing a new challenge for Australia’s national security and how the country can respond towards the new wave of terrorism.

What are incels, and why is this online community becoming a new national security threat towards Australia. Incels are lonely individuals compromised of only boys and men who blame women and are frustrated by them because of their sexless lives. These individuals are extremely isolated from a society where they are prone to be radicalised online to commit violence against not just women but against the community. The covid-19 pandemic has only increased the threat due to these individuals, mainly young people, being isolated, which has caused stress and unemployment.

A growing number of men are already committing violent attacks in Canada and the U.S. against innocent civilians, which has resulted in injuries and deaths. One of the most known incels attacks was Alek Minassian, who drove a van through Toronto CBD, killing ten people and injuring sixteen people before posting on Facebook stating “The Incel Rebellion” has begun and praising Elliot Rodger. Elliot Rodger, known and idolised by his fans as “The Supreme Gentlemen”, killed six people in a stabbing and shooting spree in Isla Vista, California, in May 2014. These violent extremist attacks by violent individuals who identify as incels will be a national security threat towards Australia, where misogyny and far-right extremism are on the rise.

The increasing misogyny in the online community has created an echo chamber for incels where these individuals have joined together to become a community known as the manosphere. A digital ecosystem, the manosphere is a haven of misogynistic messages where men can amplify their entitlement and rage against feminism and women.

In Australia, misogyny is on the rise, and globally Australian men are considered to have the most sexist views in western countries. A study found that one-third believe that traditional masculinity is under threat, and more than one-quarter pointed out that feminism did more harm than good. The Incel movement is a diverse range of groups that make a compromise of racial and ethnic groups, and many of them do discuss with white nationalists in incels forums towards their hatred of women.

In Australia, incels are primarily young white men who are tough to detect in online communities due to not having formal meetings and self-radicalising themselves online in anti-feminist groups. These self-radicalised individuals make them a prime target for far-right extremist groups who seek to exploit their vulnerabilities in an increasingly isolated echo chamber.

There is a growing threat towards far-right terrorism in western countries. These groups are becoming attracted towards toxic masculine men, especially incels with the same violent ideology towards women. In the United States, from 2015 to 2019, there were 310 terrorist attacks resulting in 316 deaths and majority of them were right-wing terrorism, including white nationalists and other alt-right movement members, consisting of incels.

The rise of far-right terrorist groups is already posing a threat towards Australia’s national security and towards Australia’s democratic institutions. In 2021, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) said that right-wing extremism is 50 per cent of their priority cases, and the intelligence agencies have already disrupted many plots related to right-wing extremists. There are already neo-Nazi groups in Australia where these individuals have meetings by evading the police and strengthening their goal to create an all-white Australia. The neo-Nazi group mainly target young, angry men, sometimes at universities but also online, and they train in gyms where older members act as step-in sergeant.

The correlation between far-right groups and incels is that they observe women as weak and submissive, and their sole purpose is to please men. It is the same belief as to why far-right groups attract incels because of their misogynistic view towards women that make these individuals a threat towards communities.

The rise of the incels movements is becoming an increasing threat towards Australia’s national security, and strong policies will be required to counter the violent extremist ideology effectively. The first step is treating the incels as a securitising issue to challenge the ideology of its misogyny and victim-blaming in the community. The second step is deradicalising at-risk individuals by supporting education programmes that promote gender quality, feminism, and misogyny in schools and the wider community (Duriesmith, Ryan, Zimmerman 2018). The final recommendation is working with organisations and stakeholders that attempt to deradicalise and prevent male supremacist violence that prevents violence against girls and women but also tackles male entitlement, strict gender roles and ownership of women (DeCook and Kelly 2022).

The steps to counter the violent extremism of the incels movement will create a preventative measure to tackling violent attacks by incels in Australia that are already happening in Canada, the U.K., and the U.S. The Incel movement will be a security threat towards Australia. The rise of far-right extremism threatening Australian democracy will provide a new challenge in tackling this new wave of terrorism worldwide, especially the “incel movement”.