There is little of the policy of the current government that resonates with John Donne’s truth that no man is an island unto himself. With the reduction of Australia’s overseas aid at an all-time low of 23 cents in every hundred dollars of national income, the shoreline of our island home marks the boundary of our official compassion.
The guardians of our collective wealth, our treasurers, plead the need at home and budget repair. Countries in a more stretched financial situation than us do much better. For example, in the United Kingdom at the urging of David Cameron, Parliament embodied the British commitment of 0.7% of GDP into legislation.
The Australian Commonwealth Government aid represents 1% of the national budget.
So Australian charity largely begins and ends at home. But at stake are national interests. Our meagre engagement with the world surrenders our capacity to address three global challenges from which our Antipodean remoteness cannot shield us: inequality, climate change and movement of people. This has significant moral implications for Christians as Matthew Anslow of TEAR Australia explains,
“The fundamental failure of the Government is not so much the immorality of failing to increase aid to 0.5% of GNI by 2015 as per our commitment; it is failing to positively invest in a more moral world for the twenty-first century.
Now, this is not to say that aid stands alone in its moral status, especially given there are other policy priorities in our budget that include a strong moral claim. But foreign aid is a signal that we, as Australians, are willing to face up to the world’s broken political economy and our place in it, and deal with the downsides of globalisation, even as we enjoy basking in its benefits.
We should thus look again [at] the Zacchaeus story [Luke 19], and be reminded that our liberation is intrinsically connected to the liberation of all peoples.
Foreign aid is the expression of the idea that Australians are willing to look beyond our borders and immediate interests, and act to build a better world-system where everyone has a seat at the table, where all have a fair share of the world’s resources.”
According to an Oxfam study, “the globe’s richest eight men have a staggering net wealth of $621bn – co-existing in a world of extreme poverty where one in 10 people are surviving on less than US$2 a day, and where one in nine people go to bed hungry every night.”
People are not moved to uproot themselves from home and embark on perilous boat journeys when their homeland is secure and respects human rights. These values, secured by a vibrant civil society, are threatened by destabilising gross inequality, a situation ameliorated by programs of Australian aid organisations now subject to crippling cutbacks ‑ programs that strengthened civil society and improved governance in societies. Political capture is taking place with those at the top, the wealthiest, excluding the poorest from the common wealth and services. The resulting instability and the inevitable consequences of climate change will create a tsunami of refugees when sea level rise displaces the inhabitants of the Ganges, Irrawaddy and Mekong deltas. Enhancing local capacity to mitigate and adapt to the consequences requires aid. Reducing our own greenhouse emissions and establishment of distributed renewable energy systems can both head off the worst of climate change and lift the poorest out of poverty.
Politicians feel they can get away with savage cuts because there are thought to be no votes in overseas aid and some argue that it disempowers the recipient. Yes, fostering trade is important but projects carefully crafted between aid organisations and local partners are incontrovertibly effective. Australia ranks as an outlier among countries with whom we like to compare ourselves. These aspire to contribute 70 cents in every hundred dollars of national income to overseas aid as recommended by the Sustainable Development Goals. We lose our self-respect, our humanity and imperil our long-term interests.
Bill is a member of the Uniting Church, taught in Malaysia for two & a half years as an Australian Volunteer Abroad. On his return to Australia he worked as an international lawyer in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade with responsibility for treaties and Antarctica. Since leaving the public service he has been heavily involved in drug law reform and social justice issues.
Action Aid – http://www.actionaid.org/australia
World Economic Forum, Outlook on the global agenda, 2015, trend 1, deepening income inequality at http://reports.weforum.org/outlook-global-agenda-2015/top-10-trends-of-2015/1-deepening-income-inequality/,
World Vision Australia: https://www.worldvision.com.au/home2203201701
Commonwealth of Australia, DFAT, Australian aid: promoting prosperity, reducing poverty, enhancing stability, June 2014 http://dfat.gov.au/about-us/publications/Documents/australian-aid-development-policy.pdf and http://dfat.gov.au/aid/Pages/australias-aid-program.aspx
Robin Davies, Measuring Australia’s foreign aid generosity, from Menzies to Turnbull at http://devpolicy.org/measuring-australias-foreign-aid-generosity-menzies-turnbull-20170203/.
General Assembly of the Unitied Nations, Resolution 70/1 adopted on 25 September 2015 on Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development [the Sustainable Development Goals] at http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/RES/70/1&Lang=E
Matt Grudnoff, Charity ends at home – The decline of foreign aid in Australia (The Australia Institute) at http://www.tai.org.au/sites/defualt/files/P168%20Charity%20ends%20at%20home%20-%20foreign%20aid%20by%20foreign%20minister%20%28C%29_1.pdf.
Lowy Institute, The facts on foreign aid spending at https://www.lowyinstitute.org/issues/australian-foreign-aid and a fact check here https://theconversation.com/factcheck-what-are-the-facts-on-australias-foreign-aid-spending-71146
Helen Szoke CEO, Oxfam Australia, “Strategy, not charity: why we need effective aid now”, 21 September 2016 at http://ces.org.au/forums/2016/Szoke-audio/SzokeSpeech.mp3
Rev Tim Costello, “Fortress Australia – myth or reality?” Dinner forum, Thursday 27 August 2015 at http://ces.org.au/forums/2015/Costello-audio/CostelloSpeech.mp3