For four days last week, Parliament House was transformed (yet again) by Micah Australia. For that Parliamentary Sitting Week about 70 of our nation’s leaders were hearing and talking about the importance of Australia’s aid program as one key way that we contribute towards building a more just, peaceful and sustainable world free from poverty.
Working with the international aid and development peak body, ACFID, and the indefatigable academics at the Centre for Development Policy, Micah Australia’s staff team – especially our Campaigns & Political Engagement Coordinator Benn Banasik – inspired, coordinated, and launched perhaps the largest cross-sector Parliamentary aid lobbying effort we’ve seen.
Advocates, government relations staff and CEOs from a wide range of Australia’s international aid and development organisations banded together to meet with 66 politicians from all sides of politics (plus more meetings scheduled in the next few weeks). There were secular NGOs teamed up with Christian advocates. It was so encouraging to see deeper friendships and greater potential for collaboration being built over coffee and conversations, meetings and debriefings.
We were heartened to see that many politicians are well informed about aid, although a lot of misconceptions still abound. We were less heartened (but not surprised) that many politicians view development cooperation entirely through a prism of self-interest. Sure, it’s in our interests to address radicalisation in Indonesia’s schools by funding quality education programs, or help Papua New Guinea tackle the tuberculosis crisis on our doorstep. But surely our country is better than asking “What’s in it for us?” when it comes to saving lives and helping people overcome poverty.
Jesus was super clear about this, calling us to "Love our neighbours as ourselves." To view the rights and interests of others with the same priority as our own rights and interests. While this is first and foremost an instruction for Jesus' followers, it was also a direction for a nation - Israel. It's not just an individual spiritual practice, but also a guide to how a nation should behave. As Christians, even in a secular nation, we are called to advocate always for a more just, more compassionate society, national and international policy.
This kind of high-level lobbying effort, though, will never replace the grassroots power of Voices for Justice. During a coffee break, a colleague from another organisation (not a Christian organisation) leaned over and said, “I just want to encourage you. In our most recent meeting we asked the politician if they remembered having meetings about aid and issues of global human development. And like a shot they said, ‘Yes. The only ones I remember are when Micah Australia brings people from my electorate to talk with me. It’s very powerful.’”
We, together, are very powerful.
By the way, have you ever wanted a clear and simple (but not simplistic) guide to Australian and international aid?
With friends at DevPol and ACFID we’ve developed this excellent overview of what aid is, how it works and why it matters (PDF, 2.37MB)