Jubilee Australia began as a movement of ordinary people speaking out against the injustice of 'third world' debt. More than a decade later we remain a critical voice in Australia, and a dynamic member of the international movement for global justice.
Bougainville, PNG. Photo credit: Antony Loewenstein.
On a Saturday in May 1998, 70,000 people formed a giant human chain around the meeting of G8 leaders in Birmingham UK. The Jubilee 2000 movement was at a peak. But the movement against debt had been in existence for many years before. Strongest in the countries of the Global South, campaigners in many countries had long demanded debt cancellation. They were responding to a string of debt crises culminating in the ‘third world debt crisis’ of the 1980s.
The issue was escalated to the global stage when campaigners in the UK came together under the banner ‘Jubilee 2000’, inspired by the way the Jubilee Laws in the Old Testament provided legal protection for the poor and ensured that poverty didn’t become generational.
After a 1997 launch in Australia, the Jubilee Drop the Debt Coalition had over sixty member groups and the Jubilee 2000 petition became the largest foreign policy petition ever tabled in Australia, with over 450,000 signatures collected. Out of this unprecedented Coalition Jubilee Australia emerged, established in 2001 to continue this important work.
In 1999, through the public pressure and lobbying of the Australian Jubilee 2000 movement, our government pledged 100% debt forgiveness for countries that qualified for relief under the IMF and World Bank HIPC scheme.
In 2004 the government fulfilled its earlier commitment, cancelling the bilateral debts of the Central America country of Nicaragua, worth $5.4 million, followed by cancellation of Ethiopia’s bilateral debt of $7.9 million.
In 2006, Jubilee Australia turned its attention to the issue of illegitimate debt, joining the International South-North Campaign on Illegitimate Debt.
In 2007, the new Labor government finally shifted Australia’s longstanding resistance to participate in a Debt-for-Development exchange, agreeing to the Global Fund’s Debt2Health initiative with Indonesia.
In the same year, Jubilee Australia launched an audit of Australia’s debt claims, culminating in a legal challenge to the Freedom of Information exemption afforded Australia’s export credit agency.
In 2008, Jubilee Australia expanded its mandate to begin monitoring current extractive industry projects being financed by the Australian government in the Pacific region.
This work culminated in the 2009 report, Risky Business: Shining a Spotlight on Australia's Export Credit Agency and has drawn attention of United Nations Independent Expert on Human Rights, Foreign Debt and International Financial Obligations, Dr Cephas Lumina.
In 2010 Jubilee Australia launched the Australian arm of the Robin Hood Tax Campaign, to popularise the idea of a government tax on speculative wholesale financial transactions to reduce high frequency speculation, slow the extraordinary growth in the derivatives market and which could raise billions to support social services and climate change action both here and overseas.