In the past few years Australian foreign policy has been marked by an increasing isolationism when it comes to the exercise of “soft” power. We have opted out of our obligations to accept asylum seekers; slashed our foreign aid budget; and have proposed some of the weakest greenhouse emissions reduction targets of the industrialised world.

It is not simply that we have weakened performance in these areas, but that we lack vision for the part we can play in the construction of a better world. The world has a growing refugee crisis, yet rather than imagining what a solution might look like, we have obsessed over how can defend our borders against the very small number of asylum seekers that make their way here. Foreign aid represents one of the best investments in human well-being available to a government, yet rather than being inspired with the ways we could relieve human misery around the globe and create a better world, we applauded the government as it slashed aid on the basis that we needed the money for infrastructure in Australia. And when it comes to emission reduction targets there is virtually no talk about how we can decarbonise our economy over the next 50 to 70 years; rather simply a focus on how we can minimise the impact on our power bills and a search for the minimum targets we could takes to Paris.

We could be so much better than this. Imagine if we are asked what it would take for the world to provide protection to all the world’s refugees, and took it upon ourselves to agitate for this outcome. Imagine if we developed a comprehensive plan for assisting nations in our region to achieve their poverty reduction targets by given dates and then mobilised our country to this effort. Imagine if we took seriously the necessity of decarbonising our economy and developed a clear strategy for making it so.

It seems to me that we have targets without vision and that this is part of a broader malaise in our public life.

There are some glimmers of hope. NSW Premier Mike Baird is increasingly proving himself to be a leader who casts big vision. If he is allowed to do it, I think Malcolm Turnbull could do the same. And on the other side of politics there are a number who can cast big vision. I think we should demand it of them.

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