A version of this post was previously published on Matt Darvas’s website and has been republished here with full permission.
“You’ve got to be kidding me!”
The Australian Government plans to spend $254,000 to lengthen, transport, fit out and install an old conference table, so that world leaders don’t get sore bottoms or have to crane their necks at the upcoming G20 meetings in Brisbane from 15 -16 November 2014.
On top of that, one of Australia’s major cities will be effectively ‘shut down’ for 42 hours as it is descended upon by over 4000 delegates, 3000 media representatives and 700 volunteers. Aussie tax payers who are footing the bill, can expect it to max out at over AUD $400 million.
To ‘outsiders’—everyday people like you and I—the whole thing can seem a little absurd.
So what’s this G20 thing all about? Who’s involved? What are they going to talk about? And most importantly, is it going to achieve a scrap of good for anyone other than the world’s already rich and powerful?
That’s what we’re about to find out!
Talk-fest or something more?
The G20 began as a fairly average ‘international conference’ for treasurers and finance ministers from 20 major world economies. However, during the 2008 Global Financial Crisis, that all changed. In fact, rumour has it Kevin Rudd, the former prime minister, played a pivotal role in this.
Kevin managed to charm then President of the United States George W Bush into attending that year’s G20 meeting in Washington DC. When presidents and prime ministers crashed the party (no longer leaving it to just the guys with the cheque books and calculators) things started to get a little more interesting, and the 2009 G20 Summit in London is now credited with having staved off another Great Depression.
What’s on the agenda for G20 Brisbane 2014?
The G20 is all about providing a ‘bureaucracy free’ arena for world leaders to discuss the most pressing economic and financial challenges, behind closed doors and away from cameras. In layman's terms, “They want to make a bunch of big decisions without too much pretense and stuffing around!”
The G20 agenda in 2014 is focused on promoting stronger economic growth through improved trade and employment, and making the global economy more resilient to deal with future shocks.
Breaking it down further, they will be talking about improving the quality of infrastructure, reducing barriers to trade, cutting red tape, lifting the number of women in the workforce, reducing youth unemployment, modernising the international tax system, reforming the World Bank and IMF, addressing corruption and improving the operation of global energy markets.
*blank stares and silence*
….. did I lose you just then? No? Good. Because we’re about to get to the good stuff!
A-heck-of-a-lot to get done in only two days?
It is. That’s why November’s meetings have been preceded by a series of meetings by smaller engagement groups, including the Civil Society 20, Youth 20, Business 20, Think 20 and Labour 20.
Each of these smaller meetings is designed to pave the way for the pens of world leaders to finally come out and start signing aspirations into agreements (that’s the plan anyway).
So how will any of this help those who need it most?
Actually, to the credit of some forward thinking leaders, and the effective advocacy of civil society, there is now a strong social reform element to the get-together, and that’s good news for the world’s poor, right? Well, potentially.
In the 2010 G20 Summit in South Korea, a ‘development stream’ was introduced specifically to target issues of poverty alleviation and international development. They’ll discuss several important issues this year (outlined in the infographic) but I want to focus on just two.
• Dodgy global bookkeeping: Right now over US$1 TRILLION a year rushes out of the world’s poorest countries due to illicit financial flows in the forms of tax dodging by multinational corporations, money laundering and corruption. When you consider that global aid to the same countries only tallies up to around $128 billion, tackling this issue as a priority for reducing poverty is an absolute ‘no-brainer’. Ben Thurley, Political Engagement Coordinator at Micah Challenge Australia says that “Tackling tax evasion by multinational corporations by requiring them to report on their operations, taxes owed and taxes paid on a country-by-country basis—rather than on the globally or regionally aggregated basis on which they currently report—could return over $160 billion a year to developing countries, saving an extra 350,000 children’s lives” (data from Christian Aid).
• Saving little hands that shouldn’t be working: Right now there are over 168 million children across the world performing often dangerous and difficult tasks as forced labourers. This is modern day slavery and it needs to be stopped. But here’s the good news. Thanks to the advocacy efforts of passionate campaigners, G20 employment ministers who met together at an earlier gathering have already committed “to take a strong stand against forced and child labour.” This is an important step cementing the issue as one that global economies must tackle and stamp out in the goods and services they import and the global supply chains they participate in.
So before you grumble and moan now you know what the G20 is really about and now you’re ready to play your part in influencing the process by taking action.
Visit Micah Challenge for more details about how you can be involved.
Words by Matt Darvas and Christopher Hoy